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Nanotechnology from the bottom up: Light-directed Synthesis of DNA molecules

Franco Cerrina

Franco Cerrina

McFarland-Bascom Professor
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
University of Wisconsin-Madison, US

Franco Cerrina: I joined the Electrical and Computer Engineering department in 1984, and since 1988 I have served as director of the Center for NanoTechnology, an internationally recognized organization for research in advanced semiconductor lithography and nanofabrication. I have procured and managed over $45 million in grants and research contracts and hold 11 patents. I am president and chief technology officer of Genetic Assemblies, Inc., a firm I co-founded in 2003. I am a member of the board of directors of NimbleGen Systems, Inc., a company I co-founded in 1999 to commercialize a novel method for rapid synthesis of DNA microarray chips.

My research focuses on the application of physical sciences and engineering to manufacturing and biological problems, with a current focus on nanotechnology and biotechnology. The application of techniques developed for semiconductor nanofabrication to biological problems is the most important avenue of work in my research group. It has led to the invention of the Maskless Array Synthesizer (MAS), commercialized by NimbleGen Systems, Inc. We are working on better ways to synthesize DNA microarray chips and are developing new techniques for the synthesis of genetic material (long DNA sequences) de-novo, that is, by assembling the DNA base by base under computer control. These DNA molecules can be used for biological research, drug and vaccine development, and for genetic engineering. Ultimately, the ability to create DNA material “on demand” will open the door to “synthetic biology,” the creation of new organisms and life forms. Grant funds have advanced our work in nanolithography and, in collaboration with the BioTech Center, development of a biotechnology platform, the Automated Gene Synthesizer.

I have a long-standing interest in semiconductor processing and device fabrication, in particular, lithography, with a strong emphasis on the nanoscale – the region between molecular and microscopic structures. The development of advanced processors and memory chips requires more and more sophisticated nanoscale patterning, well below 100 nm. Working closely with semiconductor industries and the federal government, CNTech concentrates on Next Generation Lithography (NGL) development with a focus on nanopatterning. We actively research new methodologies for the patterning of nanostructures for both CMOS and quantum device applications. CNTech has an exceptional array of techniques available for fabrication and microscopy, from ultrafine electron beams to X-rays and atomic force microscopes.

Speaking in the special symposium on Nano Electronics & Photonics.

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