MIT to build new nanoscale research facility, knock down Building 12

Vladimir Bulović is the faculty lead on the MIT.nano project.
Vladimir Bulović is the faculty lead on the MIT.nano project.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has unveiled plans for a new nanoscale research facility that will open in 2018 and house work in energy, health, life sciences, quantum sciences, electronics, and manufacturing.

I know what you’re thinking — a nanoscale facility sounds much too small for all that. To paraphrase the great fashion scientist Derek Zoolander, how can we expect researchers to make great discoveries if they can’t even fit inside the building?

Rest assured, the finished facility, known as MIT.nano, will be a full-size, four-story building of about 200,000 square feet. It will sit in the heart of MIT’s Cambridge campus, replacing Building 12, which will be demolished next year.

“The capabilities it provides and the interdisciplinary community it inspires will keep MIT at the forefront of discovery and innovation, and give us the power to solve urgent global challenges,” said MIT President L. Rafael Reif. “By following the lead of faculty and student interest, MIT has a long tradition of placing bold bets on strategic future technologies, and we expect MIT.nano to pay off in the same way, for MIT and for the world.”

When we’re talking about the nanoscale, we’re talking about one to 100 nanometers, which is really, really tiny. A strand of human DNA is 2.5 nanometers in diameter.

As noted in Monday’s story about nanomedicine, materials built in nanoscale blocks have some advantages over conventional materials: They are stronger, have lower melting points, and conduct electricity better. You can change the properties of titanium, for instance, simply by shrinking the size of its fundamental building blocks down to the nanoscale.

Unsurprisingly, nanotechnology is hot right now. MIT identified advanced facilities to support nanoscale research as its highest academic priority in 2011.

MIT.nano will address that need. It will house two interconnected floors of cleanroom laboratories with fabrication spaces, and materials growth labs. It also will include the “quietest” place on campus — a floor optimized for low vibration and minimal electromagnetic interference, which is critical to advanced imaging technologies.

“We have many urgent challenges that existing technology cannot address,” said electrical engineering professor Vladimir Bulović, the faculty lead on the MIT.nano project. “If we want to make sweeping change  — more than incremental progress — in the most urgent technical areas, we need this building and the tools of nanoscience and nanotechnology housed within it.”

Cal Borchers is a business reporter for the Boston Globe. Reach him at
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