The University of Massachusetts at Amherst has been awarded a $16 million federal grant to establish a center for research in nanotechnology, an emerging field that develops atomic-level materials for data storage, drug delivery, and energy-saving technologies.
Governor Mitt Romney, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, and other political and academic figures said yesterday that the National Science Foundation grant has recognized the research capabilities of a state university that often is overshadowed by private institutions, such as Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
''This was a tough competition, this was a tough challenge, and to know -- and to have the nation know -- that the University of Massachusetts at Amherst is selected . . . is an extraordinary tribute," Kennedy said at a State House ceremony.
Romney said: ''I'm hopeful that nanotechnology will offer the same kinds of benefits and economic potential for the Commonwealth that we saw with biotech."
More than 50 University of Massachusetts faculty in eight departments now conduct research in nanotechnology, which involves rearranging atoms with a specific goal. In theory, rearranging atoms in coal might produce diamonds.
Currently, most manufacturing is done at the molecular level, by rearranging substances by relatively imprecise methods such as grinding and milling.
The University of Massachusetts has attracted $54 million in nanotechnology research funds from government and industry sources since 1997. The new grant will allow the Center for Hierarchical Manufacturing to begin work in nanotechnology-scale manufacturing, bionanotechnology, and nanotechnology materials.
To receive the money, the state must match the federal grant from the science foundation with $5 million of its own. Romney filed a bill for funding yesterday.