The University of Pittsburgh created the Institute of NanoScience and Engineering in December 2002 under the direction of then-Provost James V. Maher. From the beginning, the mission of the Institute was to coordinate collaboration between faculty from various departments with an interest in nanoscience research, to pursue industrial and commercial relationships, and to foster educational opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students.
In February of 2006, the Institute received a $5 million endowment gift from alumnus John M. and Gertrude Petersen for the purpose of supporting nanoscale research. On September 29th of the same year the Institute, renamed the Petersen Institute of NanoScience and Engineering (PINSE), completed a $6.1 million renovation in Benedum Hall to include a state-of-the-art Nanoscale Fabrication and Characterization Facility (NFCF). The facility is in a 4,000 square foot clean room with class 100, 1000, and 10000 environments.
PINSE advocates for strong relationships with researchers from outside of the University of Pittsburgh, including commercial companies and external academic institutions.
Work by PINSE researchers has resulted in:
- developing special coatings with nanoparticles that prevent surfaces from icing;
- investigating materials containing nanosize semiconductor particles to solve one of the chief problems standing in the way of making painted coatings convert sunlight into electricity;
- integrating biology and nanotechnologies to develop highly sensitive, easy-to-use biosensors that push the boundaries of diagnostic medicine;
- identification of a human enzyme that can biodegrade carbon nanotubes which could open the door for the use of carbon nanotubes as a safe drug-delivery tool;
- development of an electron microscopy method for recording movies of optical and electronic excitations on 50 nanometer spatial scale and 10 femtosecond temporal scale.