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UCLA, the driving force behind the CNSI was Roberto Peccei,
a theoretical physicist who in the winter of 2000 was both dean
of physical sciences and interim vice chancellor for research. (Since
then, Peccei says, "I made the brilliant career move from dean and
interim vice chancellor to vice chancellor and interim dean.") It
was roughly six weeks after Gov. Davis' State of the State address,
says Peccei, sometime in late February, that the UCLA administration
started taking the initiative seriously.
result was a series of meetings between the deans of the science-based
schools and divisions on campus to assess how UCLA might win an
institute of its own. While they discussed a range of possibilities,
nanotechnology and nanoscience seemed to be an obvious choice. President
Clinton was in the process of launching a $225-million National
Nanotechnology Initiative, and researchers and administrators throughout
the country were raving about the scientific possibilities. Charles
Vest, the president of MIT, for instance, was saying that nanotechnology
"may well rival the development of the transistor or telecommunications
in its ultimate impact." Perhaps most important, UCLA already had
some of the best researchers in the world working in the area, such
as Heath, J. Fraser Stoddart and Emily Carter in chemistry, Chih-Ming
Ho in engineering and Michael Phelps, the inventor of the PET scan,
Peccei was talking to Matt Tirrell, dean of the engineering school
at UCSB, about possibly working together on a single concerted effort.
UCSB also had been discussing a range of proposals, but they knew
that their strength was in materials and devices, where UCSB is
a world leader. "So at some point we also made a decision to make
our principal proposal be in the nanotechnology area," says Tirrell.
Indeed, a handful of the UCSB faculty had been involved in writing
reports and hosting workshops that fed into the president's National
Nanotechnology Initiative. By early March, UCLA and UCSB agreed
to pool expertise and resources and collaborate on a single proposal.
focus on nanosystems then became pretty natural," says Peccei. "One
aspect of nanosystems applied to information technology, which would
capitalize equally on our strengths and those of Santa Barbara.
The other aspect would look at nanosystems in the realm of molecular
medicine, which played more to the strength here at UCLA in the
medical school and life sciences. One of our guiding principles
here was to do something that would benefit as large a community
as was sensibly possible. In that sense, nanosystems was a very
good stretch and not an unnatural one."