Small Science Leads
to Big Future at NC State

NC State University researchers looking for the next big discovery have their sights set on getting as small as possible. Nanoscale science—a nanometer is about 1,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair—sits at the confluence of biology, chemistry, and physics and offers the opportunity to engineer molecular structures with unique characteristics. That’s why nanotechnology is often viewed as a breakthrough science leading to a revolution in countless areas from pharmaceuticals, computers, and textiles to medical diagnostics and treatment.

NC State has received national recognition for its research, ranking third in nanotech commercialization and seventh in nanotech education in a recent survey by the industry magazine Small Times. Seeking better coordination of efforts among its various colleges, the University recently launched a campus-wide Nanotechnology Initiative. “We want to think about the science and our strategic approach to research as a system rather than as individual projects,” says Dr. Gregory Parsons, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering who directs the Initiative. “We want to expand our team-building and encourage more interdisciplinary nanotechnology work so we can advance knowledge, educate well-prepared graduates, and improve economic opportunities for people in North Carolina.”

Research funding sources, including the National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense, continue to devote significant chunks of their budgets to nanotech research. “A number of agencies see tremendous opportunity for economic and societal advances based on new knowledge of technology at the nanoscale,” NC State Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Studies John Gilligan says.“NC State’s strengths in materials science, engineering, textiles, and biotechnology provide several avenues for us to contribute to America’s global leadership in this field.”

Parsons says NC State’s Nanotechnology Initiative has three main components: interdisciplinary research, education programs, and business outreach. Short-term activities include planning for new research facilities, forming an Industrial Advisory Board, hiring nanotech faculty, and expanding education programs. Nanotech research thrusts emerging from the University’s strengths include: nanobiotechnology; nanofibers and textiles; nanomaterials and structures; nanotoxicology safety and environmental impacts; nanotechnology for advanced energy; nanoinstrumentation and characterization; and nanotechnology’s impact on society.

This issue of RESULTS focuses on research being conducted at NC State in each of these areas, in addition to nanotech education in an effort to bring the science to the marketplace.


Dr. Gregory Parsons leads NC State’s Nanotechnology Initiative. Background visualization is a nano-rheostat built using a carbon nanotube placed on a sheet of graphite. Calculations performed in the laboratory of Dr. Marco Buongiorno-Nardelli.