Pitt announces $5 million gift to advance nanoscale science and engineering research

February 20, 2006

The University of Pittsburgh has received a $5 million gift from alumnus John M. Petersen and his wife, Gertrude, to create an endowment supporting research in nanoscale science and technology at Pitt's Institute of NanoScience and Engineering, now the Gertrude E. and John M. Petersen Institute of NanoScience and Engineering.

Nanoengineering and nanotechnology use atoms and molecules as basic blocks to build minute machines, create new materials, and perform new molecular tasks. In a major push to advance the frontiers of the promising nanoscience field, which has energized researchers worldwide, Pitt enjoys a competitive edge through its newly endowed Petersen Institute. Pitt researchers in the institute, founded in 2002, focus at the "essentially nano" level (less than 10 nanometers, each nanometer approximately one eighty-thousandth of the width of a human hair), where the greatest breakthroughs in nanoscience are expected to occur, offering the potential for previously unimagined progress in a wide variety of areas. Work already done by institute researchers has resulted in the development of color-shifting paints, a contact lens-embedded sensor with the potential for noninvasive glucose-level monitoring for diabetes, and scaffolding to heal damaged hearts.

Within the last three years, Pitt-developed nanotechnology has been licensed to three start-up companies and one major corporation. The National Science Foundation predicts that the market for nanotech products and services will reach $1 trillion by the year 2015.

John Petersen, the retired president and chief executive officer of the Erie Insurance Group in Erie, Pa., earned the Bachelor of Business Administration degree at Pitt in 1951. He was among the first students to live on campus at Pitt, where he earned varsity athletics letters as a member of the swimming and diving team. The Petersens have maintained a strong relationship with the University through their support of a variety of University programs, including their gift to name Pitt's John M. and Gertrude E. Petersen Events Center, home of what is considered the nation's premier on-campus basketball arena. Both avid fans of Pitt athletics, the Petersens recently continued their longstanding support of the Department of Athletics with a gift of $600,000 to support baseball and swimming scholarships.

"John and Gertrude Petersen have been extraordinarily loyal and generous to the University over the years. Their gift to support the construction of the Petersen Events Center helped elevate both our men's and women's basketball programs to remarkable new heights and also gave us the chance to hold commencement on campus and to host such special events as the National Senior Olympics and the Jeopardy! College Championship," said Pitt Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg. "Their more recent gift to support our nanotechnology initiatives positions the newly named Petersen Institute to be an international leader in the field, to solve complex scientific and engineering challenges, and to develop new technologies with the potential for commercial applications."

The scientists and engineers who make up Pitt's Petersen Institute are experts in designing, characterizing, and fabricating nanoscale materials, devices, and systems. The researchers, drawn from the University's Schools of Arts and Sciences, Engineering, and the Health Sciences, form flexible, cross-disciplinary teams to investigate major questions in nanoscience and engineering.

Fall 2006 will mark the opening of Pitt's 4,000-square-foot nanoscale fabrication and characterization facility, located in Benedum Hall, which will house the best available technology in a single location and allow researchers to observe and manipulate materials at the atomic level.

"Exciting advances are on the horizon through the study of phenomena at length scales of only a few nanometers," said Pitt Provost James V. Maher. "The increased scientific understanding we gain will lead to technological breakthroughs, and the resulting improved technology will allow us to deepen our understanding of the science. This gift greatly enhances the sizeable commitment that Pitt is making to position ourselves as a leader in this field."

University of Pittsburgh

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