Nanotechnology at UMiami: The Grand Opening of (the First) Nanofabrication Facility in South Florida

BY ROHAN BADLANI

When University of Miami President Donna Shalala first interviewed for her position, she felt prepared for any questions coming her way from any of her interviewers. However, it was a student who posed to her one of the most difficult questions she had ever received. “He asked me, ‘Are you going to provide leadership in nanotechnology?’” recalled Shalala. After years of leading our institution, she can now proudly say yes.

On Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2014, the Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation Biomedical Nanotechnology Institute at the University of Miami (BioNIUM) celebrated the grand opening of one of the first  nanofabrication facilities in Florida. This cutting-edge “clean room” was established with the help of a $7.5 million donation from the foundation and is located at the Life Science and Technology Park at the Miller School of Medicine. The 2800 square-foot clean room facility keeps the air from excess particles by featuring both a Class 1000 and a Class 100 room, which allow no more than 1000 and 100 particles per cubic foot of air, respectively. This concentration of particles is kept constant by panels of filters that line the ceiling and remove excess particles to ensure that the facility lives up to its name. This level of sterility is necessary in order to build devices at the nanometer scale, which is less than one-millionth of a millimeter in size.

Dr. Richard Cote, Joseph R. Coulter Jr. Endowed Chair of the Department of Pathology at the University of Miami, as well as renowned professor, pathologist and expert in nanotechnology, was the main speaker at the opening. He possessed the vision and drive (with the added effort of the University as a whole) to conceptualize and realize such an amazing feat of interdisciplinary studies. Also present at the opening was a large party of excited faculty and graduate students who had the pleasure of listening to engaging speeches by Dean James Tien of the College of Engineering, Dean Leonidas Bachas of the College of Arts and Sciences, Dean Pascal Goldschmidt of the Miller School of Medicine and President Donna Shalala.

After the grand opening, faculty led an exclusive tour through the facility; luckily, Scientifica was given the privilege to both attend the tour and take photos to provide for our readers. Once everyone suited up in full-body gear to prevent contamination, Dr. Onur Tigli and Dr. Sung Jin Kim, both of the College of Engineering, led tours of both the Class 100 and Class 1000 rooms of the facility.

The Nanofabrication Facility at BioNIUM will become an essential resource to scientists in making strides in the emerging area of biomedical nanotechnology, in which scientists use nanodevices to diagnose and treat severe illnesses. Researchers can utilize this clean room to perform nanoscale procedures with the utmost precision, from depositing metal films as thin as a few hundred angstroms across to creating micron-scale device patterns on silicon wafers.

The opening of this state-of-the-art facility is crucial to a number of different operations, such as building nanodevices; one of its many applications involves the development of a filter to capture circulating tumor cells (CTCs) in the blood —  key indicators of cancer. Nanotechnology can also be used to release hormones such as insulin when needed in order to maintain bodily function. Organs-on-chips developed by engineers enable drug developers to use human-relevant models economic in use of both time and money compared to cell cultures and experiments using animals. In the field of engineering, there are efforts underway to regenerate tissue and, through the use of nanolayers, prevent rejection of transplanted tissues in the body. These nanolayers also help to protect food supplies from pathogens. Nanosensors developed at the facility will be able to rapidly diagnose diseases in even the smallest samples of blood. Other nanosensors are being used to indicate markers of fatigue in vehicle drivers via breath analysis.

The Nanofabrication Facility at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine is a rare gem that will act as a conduit through which scientists’ ideas can become reality. The excitement of all of those involved — along with many others present at the event — makes it apparent that the university as a whole is committed to storming into the world of nanotechnology to foster innovations that will ultimately save lives.

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