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Leading MIT.nano

Vladimir Bulović will be first director of the Institute's new nanoscience and nanotechnology facility.
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Vladimir Bulović has been named the inaugural director of MIT.nano, an appointment announced by MIT Provost Martin Schmidt.
Vladimir Bulović has been named the inaugural director of MIT.nano, an appointment announced by MIT Provost Martin Schmidt.
Photo: Lillie Paquette

Vladimir Bulović has been named the inaugural director of MIT.nano, MIT Provost Martin Schmidt has announced. 

The largest capital project in the Institute's history, MIT.nano is opening this summer as a 214,000-square-foot laboratory dedicated to the characterization and fabrication of nanoscale materials, structures, devices, and processes. Science and engineering on the scale of nanometers — about 1/100,000 the thickness of a human hair — can only be done in highly specialized, uniquely outfitted environments. As much as a quarter of current MIT research activity depends on these kinds of resources.

“MIT.nano satisfies an important need for MIT,” says Schmidt. “Even more importantly, it will create opportunities for things we still can’t even imagine. Vladimir’s appointment as director formalizes his status as one of MIT’s most adamant and persuasive advocates for nano-scale research and practice. He has a remarkable ability to facilitate and encourage innovation and collaboration.”

In accepting the appointment, Bulović will step down as associate dean of the School of Engineering and transfer his responsibilities as the founding co-director of the MIT Innovation Initiative. Michael J. Cima, the David H. Koch Professor of Engineering, will take on both roles.

The new facility will open “on time and on budget,” Bulović says. He should know. As the faculty lead on the building’s design and construction team, Bulović has been intimately involved with every step of the project since it was kicked off over six years ago.

The unique research spaces within MIT.nano will make it an unparalleled workshop for tinkering with nanoscale, nurturing discovery, sparking invention, and propelling hard-tech startups. But Bulović also calls attention to the social opportunities that were built into the MIT.nano design from the beginning: “MIT.nano is proximal to the Infinite Corridor, is adorned by views of the Great Dome, and houses a lush courtyard with the recently named Improbability Walk. Its inside corridors and meeting and teaching spaces are bathed with daylight. It is a spectacular addition to the heart of our campus that will enhance our everyday social environment.” He adds that given the ubiquitous nature of nanoscale inquiry among MIT researchers, MIT.nano will be a powerful convening space for the Institute.

While keeping an eye on the nuts and bolts of getting the remarkably complex building erected, Bulović has also been working on an operational plan to match. There are staff members who will create systems and schedules as well as maintain and upgrade instruments and processes, allowing researchers structured, reliable, and safe access to MIT.nano’s ever-evolving capabilities. Other staff will work with Bulović to coordinate MIT.nano’s collaborations with industry, develop new hands-on education programs, and communicate the expected impact of recent discoveries and scaled technologies with a broader community.

Bulović also has set up processes and committees through which faculty can weigh in on decisions about equipment, governance, and general research directions for MIT.nano. “We need to make sure that any faculty member who raises their hand can be a part of it,” he says. “In tandem, we need to always be ready to support ideas for programs we can not yet imagine.”

The need to stay nimble, Bulović says, may be one of the most important features of the new lab. “If we had made all of the equipment decisions six years ago,” he says, “we would now be opening a building with six-year old equipment in it.”

For example, he says, the cryo-electron microscope, whose inventors won the Nobel Prize in chemistry just few months ago, didn’t exist as a robust commercial tool six years ago. “Yet it’s the first tool we are installing in MIT.nano.”

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