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Dutch nanoscientists get €51 million to push limits

Posted on behalf of Sonja van Renssen.

A new €51-million (US$65 million) nanoscience programme in the Netherlands is setting out to identify and redraw the boundaries of nanotechnology. The ‘NanoFront’ project has won the lion’s share — €36 million — of a new €167-million pot of fundamental science-research funding in the Netherlands, one of the country’s largest ever. The two universities behind the project, Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) and the University of Leiden, are topping this up with €15 million of their own.

The goal of the new 10-year programme is threefold: to investigate the limits of the quantum world of materials, to understand the tiniest building blocks of living cells and to develop new technologies to be able to videos the nano world in real time.

“We will be observing, monitoring and developing material at the ultimate scale: atom for atom, in a way that was completely inconceivable a few years ago,” says research leader Cees Dekker, director of the Delft Kavli Institute at TU Delft. This institute recently discovered the Majorana fermion particle, which could help deliver future quantum computers.

NanoFront’s goal is to move beyond pure science to real physical applications. It will seek to answer questions such as: how big can a quantum object get before it stops obeying the laws of quantum mechanics? One of the goals is to explore building computer circuits out of molecules, which would enable much faster processing than exists today.

On the bio-nanoscience side, the aim is to understand how biology works at the quantum level: how do living and dead matter interact at the atomic scale? The researchers in Delft and Leiden want to study life’s tiniest components, try making their own and finally come up with a tool kit for building a basic cell. Personalized medicine would be one beneficiary.

‘The goal is to both explore and exploit nanoscience,” sums up Dekker. He expects NanoFront to create around 100 new positions, including seven for prominent international scientists.


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