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Spring 2001

SMALL SCIENCE
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At 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.

The 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, in medicine.

Meanwhile, 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.

"The 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."

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