Canada is set to invest Can$120 million (US$78 million) over five years in nanotechnology, creating a new institute based in the western province of Alberta.

On 17 August, Prime Minister Jean Chretien and Ralph Klein, premier of Alberta, unveiled plans for the Institute for Nanotechnology, which will be attached to the University of Alberta in Edmonton. Employing about 200 people, the institute will be funded jointly by the federal and provincial governments.

Federal support for the institute will come from Canada's National Research Council (NRC). It will be the first NRC institute to be governed jointly with the host university. The centre will collaborate closely with the University of Alberta, the NRC says, making joint appointments and sharing research facilities.

Thinking small: Peter Hackett says the nanotech institute will improve scientific cooperation. Credit: H. TURNER/NRC

Peter Hackett, the NRC's vice-president for research, says he is "overjoyed" by the announcement. "Canada has decided to make a major investment in an emerging field. We did this before as a nation in 1984 in biotechnology — with the Biotechnology Research Institute in Montreal — and that's turned out to be very successful."

Hackett says that the new institute will be "interdisciplinary from day one". The institute will offer "a different culture and a different way of looking at engineering, chemistry, physics and biology", he says. "Everyone will share this perspective of the nano-world."

Michael Brett, a researcher in nanostructure and thin-film engineering at the University of Alberta, agrees. The cooperative arrangement between the university and the NRC will create "a much richer institute", he says, because of the mix of scientists and graduate students and the availability of university facilities.

The main areas of investigation at the institute will relate to biomaterials, biomedical devices, computing and quantum computing, and catalysts.