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Nanotech expert to discuss integration of biological systems with technology

Nanotechnology – the ability to create new products measuring nanometers, or billionths of meters, in size – has captured the imaginations of scientists and non-scientists alike in the past decade.

The expectations for nanotechnology’s future are sky-high. Dreamers see molecule-sized machines that repair damage to the body, materials that change properties in response to their surroundings, and more.

Whether or not these scenarios can be achieved, says Carlo Montemagno, some of the expectations for nanotechnology have already been realized – in living systems.

Montemagno, the Roy and Carol Doumani Chair in Biomedical Engineering at UCLA, will give a seminar here next week titled, “Getting to ‘Mind’ – The Foundation Development of a Room Temperature Biological Supercomputer.”

Montemagno’s talk, which will be held at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, May 24, in Room 91 of the Rauch Business Center, is sponsored by Lehigh’s Center for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology and the department of materials science and engineering with support from the South Bethlehem Keystone Innovation Zone.

Those planning to attend the seminar and the reception that will follow should contact Deanne Hoenscheid of the CAMN at x83863 or via email by Friday, May 20.

Montemagno studies the application of nanotechnology to biological systems. He is developing biomolecular, motor-powered, nano-electromechanical devices, muscle-powered MEMS devices, and on-chip detectors for pathogens.

Montemagno’s work combining biological systems with micro- or nano-sized technology has been reported in Discover magazine, the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph.

He says living systems are “living” because they fuse nanotechnology and informatics.

“The richness of functionality associated with living systems is a direct product of the information generated from the interactions between molecules and from the overall supra-molecular structure of a system,” Montemagno wrote in the abstract to his talk.

Building excitable vesicles

Montemagno presents the concept of Integrative Technology, which he describes as “the intersection of the precise assembly of matter, or nanotechnology, coupled with the functional building blocks of nature, or biotechnology, and fused by the network flow of spatiotemporal information, or informatics.”

The ultimate example of Integrative Technology, says Montemagno, “would be the fabrication of a synthetic biological processor. Montemagno will discuss the design, modeling and experimental results associated with nano-sized building blocks called excitable vesicles.

“Excitable vesicles have the potential to control and manipulate information that could ultimately lead to the manifestations of emergent higher-order behavior,” he says. “These systems are designed, engineered and produced from nanoscale components to create complex systems and materials that self-organize on multiple length scales to manifest complex emergent functional behaviors.”

Montemagno also serves as chair of academic affairs for the biomedical engineering program and as professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at UCLA.

His background comprises several different disciplines. After earning a B.S. in biological engineering from Cornell, he spent eight years in the U.S. Navy as a Civil Engineering Corp. officer.

He earned an M.S. in petroleum and natural gas engineering from Penn State University and joined the Naval Petroleum Reserve in California, where he became technical assistant director.

In 1988, Montemagno joined Argonne National Laboratory, where he became group leader for the advanced environmental studies and the environmental physics research groups. While at Argonne, he earned a Ph.D. in civil engineering from Notre Dame in 1995.

He joined Cornell’s biological and environmental engineering faculty in 1995 and moved to UCLA in 2001.

--Kurt Pfitzer

Posted on Thursday, May 19, 2005

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