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Spring 2001

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imageFive days into the year 2000, when Gov. Davis announced his plan for securing the future of technology in his state, it was treated like an afterthought to a State of the State address that primarily was concerned with improving the California school system. "Last but not least" is how he introduced it, and then went on to promise $75 million a year for four years - $300 million in total - to launch three world-class institutes of science and innovation. These would be located on University of California campuses and would, so Davis predicted, ensure that the state maintains and expands its role "at the leading edge of technological invention in the 21st century."

The seeds sowed in Davis' State of the State request then took a few weeks to germinate. Only a handful of precedents existed for such state-funded research institutes, but few, if any, were this ambitious. Moreover, no money had yet been allocated by the state, and the governor had required that any candidate institutes prove they could raise $2 from industry, foundations or the federal government for every dollar that came from California. To university administrators around the state, it all sounded vaguely implausible, like a dream vision that would vanish in the harsh morning of political reality. But UCLA administrators decided it would be worth discussing and maybe drafting a proposal. After all, the university had world-class scientists, which certainly made it worth a shot.

One year later - one "yearlong fire drill" in the words of UCLA chemist Jim Heath - the result is the California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI), a joint endeavor of UCLA and UC Santa Barbara, with Davis' promise of $100 million in funding and more than $250 million in matching funds. The CNSI will be a multidisciplinary institute that will cut across the boundaries of physics, chemistry, biology, engineering and material science to develop technologies and devices on a scale of a few billionths of a meter. Nanoscience and nanotechnology are now considered the great scientific frontiers of the 21st century, promising to revolutionize a spectrum of disciplines from quantum computing to health-care technology and even national security. The kinds of discoveries and inventions that are likely to emerge from the CNSI - smaller, faster and more efficient computers; a lamp that uses a tenth as much energy as modern lightbulbs and never burns out; lighter and stronger building materials that may make cars, buses and other forms of transportation more energy-efficient; medicines that target the molecular errors that cause disease - will, says UCLA Chancellor Albert Carnesale, impact every facet of society and will be instrumental in "creating the technologies of California's future and future generations in California and the world will benefit from the discovery and innovation pioneered by this unique enterprise."

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