UCSB was selected as the site for one of three California Institutes for Science and Innovation, ensuring a big chunk of government and corporate money to build a campus nanosystems institute.

The project, a joint proposal with UC Los Angeles, will receive $100 million over four years from the state, and nearly $50 million from companies such as Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems. The institute’s directors are planning to begin construction next to an engineering-sciences building, also still in planning, adjacent to the chemistry and engineering buildings.

The emerging field of nanotechnology — the designing of devices atom by atom — could revolutionize many fields, from manufacturing to medicine.

Chancellor Henry Yang said he hopes to see construction on the building, which is still in the design phase, begin in 18 to 24 months.

Evelyn Hu, the scientific co-director of the institute, said the space will be used to increase collaboration with common equipment and labs as well as conference and meeting rooms. The building may also hold rooms like the current clean rooms used in nanofabrication, which would combine biological and chemical technologies, and may include high-speed computer access to help communicate with an institute to be built at UCLA.

California Gov. Gray Davis announced the award in early December, along with a biotechnology center at UC San Francisco, UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz and a telecommunications and information technology center at UC San Diego and UC Irvine.

“We are grateful to Gov. Davis for his bold vision in advocating basic research and recognizing the role it plays in economic development,” Yang said in a statement. “This investment in research and in the education of future generations is critical to creating an environment that is conducive to innovation and discovery, and contributes to a better quality of life.”

Hu said both schools will bring their expertise in nanotechnology, which at Santa Barbara includes a strong emphasis on information technologies, to the project.

“We entered into this partnership because we have histories of working together, but also because we have complementary strengths,” she said. “There’s this lock-and-key relationship, but more than that, as we worked with UCLA over this past year to try and formulate the proposal to give shape to this nanosystems institute, we felt we were growing closer and closer together.”

Nanotechnology is based on work with structures and materials at the smallest of levels — about one billionth of a meter.

“It’s on the level of molecules,” Hu said. “If we can control the structure, the composition, the properties of materials at the nanometer scale, and beyond that, take nanometer components and put them together, that basically means we can tailor the properties of materials and make devices that nature never made.”

The research promises to allow scientists to build devices from the “bottom up,” a process found in nature but not yet in the laboratory, Hu said.

“Nature makes things bottom up, takes the things like DNA and proteins, and has them self-assemble,” she said. “They naturally match and fit in the right structure. Whereas the way we make things now is top down. We look at a thing like silicon, and we carve out the piece,” she said.

“The neat thing is that at the nanometer scale, we’re talking about modifying, controlling and integrating all kinds of materials, including materials that we haven’t beforehand found coexisting, such as biological materials integrated with electronic materials,” Hu added. “We may be able to understand ways of forming nano devices in the same way that nature does it.”