Kavli Institute for Bionano Science and Technology established

In Health, nano on September 30, 2006 at 7:39 pm

Gift will support the exploration of life and biology at the nanoscale level

The Kavli Foundation and Harvard University have agreed to establish the Kavli Institute for Bionano Science and Technology (KIBST). The endowment from the Kavli Foundation will help to boost the University’s research efforts at the interfaces of biology, engineering, and nanoscale science. In particular, the gift will fund postdoctoral research fellows and support a lectureship series dedicated to “nano-” or small-scale science.

A “nanometer” is one-billionth of a meter, about a 100,000 times smaller than the diameter of the average human hair. Nanoscience offers scientists a way to get a close-up view of life’s building blocks – near-atomic-resolution images that help to determine the structure and function of proteins and even to follow the dynamics of individual molecules. Likewise, advances in manipulating nanoscale matter and materials are likely to lead to tiny machines that could deliver medicine or detect viruses.

“Fred Kavli’s gift on behalf of his foundation is a wonderful commitment to both the basic and applied sciences,” said Harvard’s interim President Derek Bok. “It will allow Harvard to build an even stronger presence in this exciting and emerging field.”

“Some of the most fascinating scientific research today is being done at the nanoscale, the realm of atoms and molecules,” said business leader and philanthropist Fred Kavli, founder of the Kavli Foundation. “I expect that the Harvard institute will contribute significantly to our knowledge of nanoscale processes, and help to harness them for the benefit of humanity.”

George Whitesides, Woodford L. and Ann A. Flowers University Professor, and David Weitz, Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and of Applied Physics, will serve as the founding directors for the KIBST. The institute, which is expected to reside in either the future Laboratory for Integrated Sciences and Engineering or Northwest buildings, will complement Harvard’s existing hubs dedicated to small-scale science: the Center for Nanoscale Systems (CNS), the Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC), the Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center (NSEC), and the newly formed Initiative in Quantum Science and Engineering (IQSE).

“The KIBST will seek to develop a deeper understanding of the functioning of life and biology at the nanoscale level by developing new tools and probes that marry microfabrication and microfluidics with high-resolution imaging,” said Whitesides. “Our goals are to use such new techniques to probe the behavior of single molecules, cells, tissue, and organs; to gain a deeper understanding of the essential relationship between structure and function that controls all biology; and to combine structural and functional studies from the scale of single molecules to the scale of tissues and whole organs.”

The Harvard Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences (DEAS), with almost half of its faculty having some interest in biology-related questions and with its increasingly strong ties to the Harvard Medical School, will play a large role in shaping the direction of the institute. In addition, participants in the KIBST will span various departments in Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences – such as Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Molecular and Cellular Biology, Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Physics, and Statistics – and include researchers from broader science initiatives such as those in neuroscience, genomics, and the Rowland Institute.

“While there are a number of faculty already engaged in research on various aspects of bionano science and technology, the establishment of the Kavli Institute will help to further integrate these activities by providing an umbrella institution,” said Venkatesh “Venky” Narayanamurti, dean of engineering and applied sciences. “Investing at the interfaces of fields is critical for sustaining continued advances across areas in science and engineering. Future innovations might range from new types of imaging devices to smart drug delivery systems to novel materials.”

Co-directors Whitesides and Weitz expect the KIBST’s initial efforts to be focused on applying advances from the physical sciences, particularly at the nanoscale level, to the study of important questions in the life sciences. One area of considerable interest involves using microfluidic techniques (the precise control and manipulation of extremely small volumes of fluids) to better understand biological problems at the level of cells and below.

“The Kavli Institute for Bionano Science and Technology is an important addition to the expanding network of Kavli institutes,” said David Auston, president of the Kavli Foundation. “We expect it will play a key role in advancing the frontiers of science in this emerging field where biology, physics, chemistry, and materials science intersect.”

About the Kavli Foundation

Dedicated to the advancement of science for the benefit of humanity, the Kavli Foundation supports scientific research, honors scientific achievement, and promotes public understanding of scientists and their work through an international program of research institutes, prizes, professorships, and symposia in the fields of astrophysics, nanoscience, and neuroscience. Established in 2000, its headquarters are in Oxnard, Calif.
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