The infinite hard drive and the computer that fits on the head of a pin may be around the corner thanks to engineering at the molecular level — but UCSB may lose a few parking spaces to get them.

The California NanoSystems Institute has been in the news because construction on the 63,000 square-foot facility, set to begin in Spring 2003, will eliminate around 400 parking spaces in Lot 10. But the institute, a joint project between UCSB and UCLA, also stands to improve UCSB’s reputation as a resource facility as well as increase job and internship opportunities on campus.

The building is designed as a new entryway from east campus and will be located between Kohn Hall and Engineering II.

Nanotechnology allows scientists to build products at the nanometer level, the smallest possible scale. A nanometer is a measurement equal to the width of a strand of hair split 10,000 times. Historically, products have been designed by breaking up a larger matter into smaller parts, but the nanometer approach to product development allows for atom-by-atom construction to create a whole product.

Although pin-sized computers may not be invented in the next few years, the CNSI research promises to improve on ordinary engineering techniques by creating devices that combine conventional electronics and communications elements with technology from more unconventional engineering fields, such as photonics, microfluidics, micromachinery and biotechnology.

The building will house research labs, conference rooms and specialized equipment designed for working on such small scales.

Although the CNSI facility is still on the drawing board, nanotechnology research is already underway at UCSB.

“Nanoscience is already built into a wide range of our research activities,” electrical and computer engineering professor Evelyn Hu said. “For example, we are a member of the National Nanofabrication Users Network, sponsored by the National Science Foundation.”

“One strength of CNSI is bringing in many industries to partner with research faculty and sponsor fellowships for students,” Vice Chancellor for Research France Cordova said. “This gives the students who want to work in industry after graduating more intimate knowledge of how industries work and what they are looking for in an employee.”

Gov. Gray Davis declared CNSI one of three winners of a $100 million state research grant last December, providing funds for the $53 million building.

Of the state funding, $95 million is for buildings on both campuses and $5 million is for the administrative component. UCLA’s 120,000 square-foot CNSI building will receive two-thirds of the grant money, while UCSB will receive one-third for its facility.

UCLA and UCSB had to demonstrate that private donations to the institute would match the state funds two-to-one, a goal which has since been accomplished.

The media has recently portrayed nanotechnology negatively because of its potential for bioterrorism, the possible use of molecule-sized machines to alter human biological processes.

“None of the research we do at UCSB is aimed at creating the kind of worrisome uncontrolled technology often portrayed in the press,” Dean of Mathematical, Life and Physical Sciences Martin Moskovits said. “Our most important aim is to understand the underlying science behind nanotech, offering our students the opportunity to share in its discovery.”

Matthew Tirrell, the dean of the college of engineering, said UCSB is a leader in nanotechnology and that the institution will not only help the school’s reputation as a resource facility but also the California economy.

“CNSI will expand the amount and the quality of the space and facilities available for science and engineering research,” Tirrell said. “It will create a much healthier economy, specifically in the state of California by creating jobs and new business opportunities for everyone, much as the electronics industry has done.”

Faculty members from many different university programs are involved in the facility’s research projects.

“This program will give us the impetus and resources to craft a truly superb education program in nanosystems that will link the sciences, engineering, media arts and ultimately social sciences together,” Hu said.