What is nanotechnology? 

Nanotechnology is a set of technological tools that rely on the ability to control matter precisely on lengthscales below 100nm (that is, below one ten thousandth of a millimetre).

Is nanotechnology dangerous? 

In itself, no.  But it is well established that the properties of very small (nanometre-scale) objects can be very different from the properties of larger volumes of material.  This means that it is important to test new products or devices involving nanoparticles to make sure they do not pose unexpected risks.

Is a facility like this in the centre of London dangerous? 

No more so than any other scientific laboratory.  We have rigorous safety procedures to assess and minimize any risks.  Exposure of LCN personnel to nanoparticles and other reagents is carefully controlled, as is disposal and containment of any potentially hazardous material.

What are the potential benefits of nanotechnology to society? 

Solutions to many key technological challenges of our time – from the efficient harnessing of the Sun’s energy as a form of clean power to understanding the molecular basis of disease – will rely on nanotechnology.

Lots of universities seem to have nanotechnology and nanoscience centres these days.  Why is this and how is the LCN different? 

There is widespread recognition that nanotechnology and nanoscience will be key enabling tools for a very wide range of science and technology in the twenty-first century.  As a result many leading science universities have invested in nanoscience centres.  But the special features of the LCN include:

  • Its scientific quality – a recent international review recognized the LCN as the leading centre of its kind in the UK and competitive with the very best in the world;
  • Its location at the heart of a major metropolis;
  • Its joint ownership by two of the leading universities worldwide;
  • Its tight integration with the unrivalled concentration of medical facilities in the London area.

The LCN is a collaboration between two different universities.  How does that work? 

UCL and Imperial College London are two of the world’s leading science and technology institutions.  They are both located in central London, about 5km apart.  There are LCN  laboratories at both sites.  All LCN staff and students are affiliated to one institution or the other, and research students graduate with a degree from their own institution.  The leaders of the research teams (Principal Investigators) have teaching appointments in the two colleges’ academic departments.  There are many joint projects that span the two institutions, which also work closely in a joint strategic approach to nanotechnology and in the appointment of key staff.

Do the two universities offer undergraduate degrees in nanotechnology? 

At present, no. We take the view that nanotechnology is an interdisciplinary field, not a discipline, and therefore that the best preparation for professional work in the area is a good first degree in a relevant discipline followed by postgraduate training in nanotechnology. 

I’ve heard that nanotechnological processes and measurements are very sensitive to vibrations.  How is it possible to do this kind of research in the centre of a major city? 

The LCN’s facilities have been specially designed to operate in a city-centre environment.  For example, the LCN’s Bloomsbury building has a massive concrete foundation to minimize vibrations, and key pieces of equipment have active vibration suppression (which works on similar principles to noise-cancelling headphones).

How do I get involved? 

If you are thinking about a career in nanoscience, we would advise you to get a good first degree in a relevant discipline  and then do postgraduate work in nanoscience or nanotechnology. If you are already qualified in a relevant area and want to join the LCN, please see our job opportunities or postgraduate recruitment pages.