Harvard To Establish New Biotech Center

Harvard announced Tuesday that it received $7.5 million from the Kavli Foundation to establish a new institute dedicated to exploring the interface between biology and nanotechnology.

The new Kavli Institute for Bionano Science and Technology will support postdoctoral fellows as well as a lecture series in bionanoscience, a relatively young but rapidly expanding field that examines life on the nano-scale.

“Understanding life at the smallest levels could offer dramatic changes in both basic biology and, on a more mundane level, transform a trip to the doctor’s office,” according to the original planning documents for the institute. “The intersections among biology and engineering represent some of the most fruitful in basic and applied research.”

The new institute will focus on basic, fundamental biology and nanotechnology research rather than applications-based research. Though the research is not expected to yield any immediate results, there is hope that it will one day yield advances in several diverse fields ranging from medicine to electronics.

“We feel very strongly that research should not be directed towards application because that is a short-term view,” said a spokesman for the Kavli Foundation, Saswato Das. “We are here to support the long-term view,”

Leading the new institute will be co-directors George M. Whitesides, the Flowers University professor, and David A. Weitz, the Mallinckrodt professor of physics and applied physics. Their main initial duties will be to set the institute’s research agenda and to get more faculty groups on board.

The Kavli Foundation was founded in 2000 by Fred Kavli, a businessman turned philanthropist, in order to probe three main areas of science—astrophysics, nanoscience, and neuroscience. The money from the foundation is given with no strings attached, with the hope that researchers will explore the frontiers of these three disciplines without having to worry about producing usable applications.

“The interesting thing about Fred Kavli is that he is very much in support of funding research that often doesn’t get funding,” explained a spokesman for Harvard Engineering and Applied Sciences, Michael P. Rutter.

Since its inception, the foundation has opened 10 institutes around the world dedicated to furthering research in the three areas, including sites at Stanford, Caltech, MIT, Yale, Columbia, Cornell, and the University of Chicago, according to the foundation’s website.

“We identify possible sites by asking scientists, people in the know, what the centers of excellence of research in these three areas are,” foundation spokesman Das explained. “Then we make site visits and talk to the people and ask whether or not they would like to become part of the institute. That is the process we used when we chose Harvard.”