This explains why, on the corner of 32d and Walnut Streets, construction crews hammered and dug their way 18 feet into the ground. They sank stout caissons into the underlying Wissahickon schist. And then, in a "sweet spot" designated for a series of high-tech basement labs, they poured a slab of concrete three feet thick.
The result, despite the nearby urban rumble of trucks, buses, and trains, is an unyielding platform for "cameras" -- really, electron microscopes -- to study particles that are billionths of a meter in diameter.
"My vision is that this will be a catalytic place," said
Nanotechnology is the latest frontier in the higher-education arms race, as universities seek to lure the hottest researchers by purchasing the snazziest equipment and facilities.
"If a school does not have a center such as this, they have little chance to keep up with cutting-edge research," Reed said.
Singh initially pledged
Singh said his interest in nanotechnology was ignited a decade ago, when a nano-inventor made him samples of a light, ultra-strong aluminum-based material called a metal matrix composite. A version of that material is now used to make
But Singh said that his support for the new building has little to do with his ongoing business interests and that he chose the project specifically because he did not want to appear self-serving. His goal: to ensure that his alma mater and the region are leaders in a field so new that it is hard to predict all the advances it will yield.
"It's going to be as significant as plastics were for the 20th century," Singh said.
Take the building's "clean room," which removes all but the tiniest particles from the air with filtration units and a high-end HEPA filter that would put your vacuum cleaner to shame. The room, designed for creating miniature circuits, is 100 times cleaner than the air in
"If you are somebody with allergies, the clean room is a great place to work," Clay said.
The idea for the center was first hatched in 2004 by the leaders of
"It's got endless possibilities for really multiplying the impact of cutting-edge science in our community," Gutmann said.
Among the scientists who will use the Singh Center is
The idea is to attach antibodies for a particular disease protein to a sheet of graphene, which acts as an electrical conductor. When such a protein binds to the antibody, the graphene is perturbed in such a way that alters the electrical signal to indicate the presence of the disease, he said.
"We can easily imagine making 1,000 graphene devices on one little wafer that could test for 1,000 things simultaneously," Johnson said.
Allen, the center's scientific director, said other future nano-devices could include chemical sensors in smartphones that could measure air pollution or food spoilage.
Then there is
Whoever is using the equipment,
Yates oversees the portion of the center that houses the electron microscopes. He tested one of the devices recently by seeing how long he could keep an electron beam trained on a clump of gold atoms that measured one nanometer across.
Five minutes later, it had not budged.
(c)2013 The Philadelphia Inquirer
Visit The Philadelphia Inquirer at www.philly.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services