The objects they devise result from nanotechnology—the branch of science that engineers systems at the molecular scale, but the subjects covered by the attendees of the Nanoelectronic Devices for Defense & Security Conference (NANO-DDS) are anything but miniscule. Hosted this year at the Polytechnic Institute of NYU from August 29 to September 1, the biennial event regularly reviews research that could lead to a safer world.
Imagine, for instance, the Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta, where more than 240,000 passengers travel daily. Releasing a deadly virus in an environment where so many come and go could mean the quick spread of a global pandemic. Unless, of course, there was something like a "biological agent sniffer" in place, says professor Erich Kunhardt, who teaches in NYU-Poly's Applied Physics department. Such a device, he explains, could monitor dangerous pathogens that appear within a certain radius of a given location.
That kind of scenario was just one of many vetted by conference attendees. Nanotechnology can be applied to many fields, so attendees were just as likely to represent the fields of communications or imaging as they were the defense industry. "What's different about this conference is its breadth," says Kunhardt. "It tries to bring together people from all walks of life — from bench-scientist types all the way to the guy who's actually in the field and needs to get hold of the devices."
Academics from art, biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, engineering and computer science departments around the world also joined the 240 registrants, which included representatives from the government sector and private industry, particularly small, early-stage high-tech companies catering to the defense industry. Faculty from both NYU and NYU-Poly were also active conference-goers, with professors Ned Seeman of NYU's Department of Chemistry and Greg Recine of NYU-Poly's Department of Applied Physics among other local presenters.
Their participation was but one indication of the deep capabilities for nanoelectrodynamic research at NYU and at NYU-Poly, which aspires to establish a center for such work. NYU-Poly’s Associate Provost for Research and Technology Initiatives and Professor of Applied Physics Kurt Becker discussed the possibility, saying that he didn't believe "the demand in terms of physical space is particularly large." Instead such a center would be a combination of "some labs, some computation facilities and some top-notch faculty who are theoretically oriented," he says.
A Natural Progression
The Institute's selection as the host for the 2011 venue NYU-Poly's reputation in the field, Becker believes. With the conference only in its third recurrence, NYU-Poly's selection so early in the conference's development suggests that it is highly regarded by conference organizers, which included representatives from the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Army Research Office and the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency, among others.
Many from those agencies participated in the conference, and, as Becker explains, they came "not to give talks, but to listen and be approached by other faculty about new ideas." In that way, he says, the conference was "an exchange of ideas that stimulates the next round of cutting-edge research."