The Zewail City of Science and Technology and the American University in Cairo have partnered to jointly establish the Center for Nanoelectronics and Devices, Egypt’s first stab at joining the global nanotechnology race.
Nanotechnology is an advanced field of study that allows matter to be manipulated and constructed atom-by-atom, granting scientists the ability to build devices one billionth of a meter at a time.
“With nanotechnology, the sky is the limit,” says Yehea Ismail, the director of the center, who was previously the director of the Nanoelectronics Center at Northwestern University in Chicago. “It allows for integrated technology,” or multiple electronic devices working in cohesion, “to be developed in an infinite amount of ways.”
Thus far, nanotechnology has allowed for a wide range of groundbreaking developments, from golf balls that fly straighter, to nanoparticles that deliver medicines to specific cells, to chips that significantly increase energy production efficiency, holding great potential for the future of solar energy.
“It could also help solve a number of Egypt’s most pressing problems, from traffic to hepatitis C,” says Ismail.
The center is currently headquartered at both AUC and Zuweil City, with funding being shared by both institutions.
In terms of facilities, AUC has already designated a cleanroom — an extremely sterile room for scientific research — to the center that is worth around US$10 million, which is actually quite humble in comparison to the billions of dollars poured into the field globally.
Although nanotechnology manufacturing has a reputation for being an extremely expensive pursuit, Ismail says that there are ways around this.
“Even the USA and the UK don’t build the products with national funds; the design and research from universities is sold to commercial manufacturers,” he says. “The money is in the theory itself, which costs next to nothing to produce. [Nanotechnology] can actually produce money for Egypt, as well as put Egypt on the map as a nanotechnology research hub.”
A complete scientific team is currently being put together. Several personnel have already been hired, and research has just begun.
According to Ismail, a center of nanotechnology will also entice other acclaimed Egyptian scientists who traveled abroad, like himself, to return to their country. It will also allow for more opportunities to apply for research funding.
One of the first projects that the center will be working on will be in the development of biochips, which are like miniaturized laboratories that can be inserted into an individual to perform hundreds of thousands of simultaneous biochemical operations, like a miniature doctor.
The team will be working with Sir Magdi Yacoub, a professor of cardiothoracic surgery at Imperial College London.
Other research will look into developing advanced computer chips that can potentially be sold to companies like Intel, which Ismail is already affiliated with from previous work.
“Many more research projects will eventually be taken on as the center gets on its feet,” says Ismail.
The center will also be offering fellowships to students to allow them to capitalize on the state-of-the-art resources available.