Leading scientific figures, pioneers and representatives from key organisations internationally are visiting Sydney for today’s launch of the Australian Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology (AINST) – and the official opening of its headquarters – the most advanced facility for nanoscience in the region – where design, fabrication and testing of devices can occur under one roof.
Officially opening the new $150 million Sydney Nanoscience Hub will be Australian Academy of Science’s President Andrew Holmes AM. Senior executives from Microsoft in the USA are also visiting to tour the building, and scientists speaking at the launch include one of Israel’s top physicists, Moti Segev – whose centre at the Technion is collaborating on a project with the University of Sydney and the NSW Government.
Nanoscience is expected to be more impactful this century than the industrial revolution in the 19th century. But “the buildings in which we work, rather than our imaginations, are what’s been limiting the science,” says Associate Professor Michael Biercuk, formerly a consultant to the US government organisation the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and now the research leader of a quantum flagship in AINST.
More than six years in the making, the award-winning Sydney Nanoscience Hub was co-funded with $40 million from the federal government, includes teaching spaces alongside publicly available core research facilities that will support fundamental research as well as the work of startups and established industry.
AINST hosts some of the capabilities of the Australian National Fabrication Facility and of the Australian Microscopy and Microanalysis Research Facility – both co-funded by the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS). Researchers at the Institute contribute to two Australian Council Centres of Excellence: the Centre for Ultrahigh bandwidth Devices for Optical Systems (CUDOS); and the Centre for Engineered Quantum Systems (EQuS).
Professor Benjamin Eggleton, the Director of CUDOS who also heads the photonics flagship at AINST, says photonics (the study of photons – the building blocks of light) was already delivering real-world solutions: “Photonics is the backbone of the internet and underpins a $7 trillion industry,” Eggleton says.
“Our team has led the world in photonic-based chip processing and we are now working on building a photonic chip – or a lab on a chip – that may one day be compatible with mobile phones, enabling them to sense environmental pollution or be used for testing blood samples to diagnose health issues.”
Vice-Chancellor Dr Michael Spence says the University-wide AINST reached across traditional disciplinary boundaries.
“The Australian Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology continues the University of Sydney’s tradition in addressing multidisciplinary issues in a unique way to ensure that we are ready to solve the great challenges of science, engineering and beyond,” he says.
AINST Director, Professor Thomas Maschmeyer, will also head one of five initiating flagships – in energy and environment – and this month announced an investment valued at $11 million from the United Kingdom into a university nano spin-off.
“There is little doubt that society must progressively transition to non-fossil-based energy,” Maschmeyer says.
Professor David Reilly, research leader of the AINST’s quantum measurement and control flagship, says breakthroughs at the nanoscale hold the key to major advances in areas such as artificial intelligence and security.
“The challenge for us over the next few years is to take the physics results that we have probing the basic phenomena of quantum mechanics and see those results turn into technologies.”
Director of the Sydney Nanoscience Hub building Professor Simon Ringer says new science would be enabled through this purpose-built facility for nanoscience – the first in Australia.
“This is the best building of its kind in our region. It will allow us to operate research instruments that enable us to ask questions at the frontiers of science.”
AINST Director of Community and Research, Professor Zdenka Kuncic says the ‘rules of the game’ in nanoscience were still being worked out.
“Perhaps the most exciting aspect of nanoscience is the potential for new discoveries, including in health and medicine,” she says.
“We have only scratched the surface of the new knowledge that remains to be revealed.”