Mirkin at AAAS Meeting: Cross-pollination between scientific disciplines shaping the future of research

By Megan Fellman

March 03, 2014

Nanotechnology pioneer Chad Mirkin presents at AAAS meeting – Cross-pollination between scientific disciplines are shaping the future of research

In an age of specialization, building networks of outstanding scientists, engineers, and clinicians is enhancing the development of creative solutions to complex societal needs. But how do you successfully surmount the barriers between disparate disciplines?

Northwestern University professor Chad Mirkin is no stranger to the challenges of building diverse teams. He is the Founding Director of the International Institute for Nanotechnology (IIN) – one of the most successful nanotechnology institutes in the world that brings together more than 190 faculty researchers from 25 different disciplines.

The IIN is an umbrella organization that catalyzes and supports interdisciplinary research focused on the development of transformative nanotechnologies including: NanoMedicine, Nano Materials & Devices, NanoEnergy, Environmental Nanotechnology, Nanotechnology Solutions for Food & Water, Nanotechnology for Security & Defense, and NanoEducation. Established in 2000, the IIN is home to the first federally funded nanotechnology facility in the nation; currently represents and unites over $600 million in nanotechnology research, education, and infrastructure; and has positioned Northwestern as a world leader in the field. “The IIN provides the essential framework to overcome traditional divisions between university departments and schools,” stated Mirkin. “It has enabled us to attract researchers with deep expertise in their fields, support and enable creative synergy, enhance translational capabilities, and build one of the largest and most productive nanotechnology institutes in the world.”

Mirkin will discuss the IIN from inception to realization in a presentation titled “University Convergence Institutes” at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Chicago. His presentation is part of the symposium “Convergence Science: A Revolution for Health Solutions” to be held from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. CST Saturday, Feb. 15, in the Comisky Room of the Hyatt Regency Chicago.

Mirkin serves as an advisor to President Barack Obama on science, technology, and innovation in his role as a member of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. His research involves the study of materials and processes that operate at the atomic and molecular level. The prefix nano means one billionth. One nanometer, therefore, is one billionth of a meter. To put that extremely small size in another context: A nanometer is to a meter what a marble is to the Earth. Materials with nano-sized particles have always existed, of course. But not until some relatively recent advances in scientific instrumentation were scientists able to both observe nanoparticles and manipulate them.

Mirkin is the George B. Rathmann Professor of Chemistry, Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Professor of Materials Science & Engineering, and Professor of Medicine. He is one of only 15 scientists, engineers and medical doctors in the world, and the only chemist, to be elected into all three branches of the US National Academies. He is celebrated for his discovery and development of Spherical Nucleic Acids (SNAs) and the many medical diagnostic and therapeutic applications that have derived from them, the invention of Dip-Pen Nanolithography (recently recognized by National Geographic as one of the top 100 scientific discoveries that changed the world), and contributions to supramolecular chemistry. He is the author of over 550 manuscripts and over 930 patent applications worldwide, and the founder of three companies, Nanosphere, AuraSense, and AuraSense Therapeutics, which are commercializing nanotechnology applications in the life science and semiconductor industries.

by Megan Fellman