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Posted: November 29, 2008

Soft-matter nanotechnology to create artificial life forms

(Nanowerk News) Owe Orwar, Professor of Physical Chemistry at Chalmers, has received a SEK 25 million (approximately $3 million) research grant from the European Research Council, ERC. The call for applications was directed at interdisciplinary science for senior researchers and Orwar has been granted funding for a nanoscience program entitled "Soft-Matter Nanotechnology to Create Artificial Life Forms".
"First and foremost I don't regard this as a personal award. It is an award for the research group and the extraordinary students from all corners of the world who through their energy and enthusiasm have it possible to conduct science that is highly relevant," says Owe Orwar.
The research program deals with the complex control of soft materials on a nanoscale. This is a combination of chemistry, physics and biology will lead to new technologies based on cell-imitating functions such as chemotaxy, which is the controlled movement of material driven by a concentration gradient, as well as new display materials, nanosensors, nanorobotics and a great deal besides.
"There is a virtually unlimited range of possibilities. Another important part of the program deals with acquiring a better understanding of how chemical reactions take place in cell environments through microfluid-controlled geometry and topology operations in cell-like systems," says Owe Orwar.
He points out that the funding from the ERC is also recognition of all the national and international partners and those who have supported the research in the past, primarily the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research, but also the Swedish Research Council, the National Institute of Health (USA) and the EU.
"This is also an award for Chalmers. The backing from former President Jan-Eric Sundgren, and the current president Karin Markides, has been outstanding. The support from Professor Bengt Kasemo at the Department of Physics is also deeply appreciated," says Owe Orwar.
The prestigious call for applications by the ERC is directed at well-established, leading researchers. The average age among the applicants was 51 years. At 44, Owe Orwar is the youngest in the group to receive this important award. The ERC awards a total of €542 million to the successful projects chosen from the 2,167 applications submitted. Orwar was the only Swede to receive an award in the field of interdisciplinary science with 7.25 points out of a maximum of 8.
"The Department of Microtechnology and Nanoscience, MC2, and the clean room were prerequisites for success. The management at the Department of Chemistry, with Krister Holmberg leading the way, along with colleagues at the Chemistry and Bioscience departments have been a further crucial factor behind this success. The working environment is almost perfect for succeeding in this type of science," says Owe Orwar.
Orwar has previously started two biotechnology companies, Cellectricon and Nanoxis, and a third is in the pipeline. He believes that the current EU-funded program, together with an SSF-funded project, will eventually lead to the establishment of more companies.
Source: Chalmers University of Technology