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[SAN JOSE] Nanotechnology research in Latin America has received a boost with the inauguration of the National Laboratory for Nanotechnology, Microsensors and Advanced Materials (Lanotec) in Costa Rica.

Although small nanotechnology projects are underway in various Central American universities, there is no specialist centre for this field of research. Lanotec will be the first such centre in Central America and one of only a few in Latin America, and is intended to become a centre of excellence in advanced materials science.

Sources at the Costa Rican National Centre of High Technology (Cenat), the institution that hosts the laboratory, told SciDev.Net that Lanotec's main activities will be advanced research and establishment of strategic alliances with the high technology industry, both nationally and overseas. These collaborations will focus on the research and development of products and specialist services.

Lanotec will also have a teaching laboratory that will collaborate with other institutions on their academic programmes.

"Lanotec will be the focal point for major national and international projects," said physicist Jorge Andrés Diaz, leader of the initiative, during its inauguration ceremony on 31 August.

The laboratory will begin working on two projects. One will research, design and construct microsensors, a field of research in which Diaz was awarded Costa Rica's national science prize in 1999.

The other project will research and construct carbon nanotubules, small cylindrical structures used in the manufacture of advanced electronics materials. On this project, Lanotec will collaborate with the Costa Rican chemist Jeannette Benavides, who is director of the carbon nanotubules project at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre based in Maryland, United States.

"The development of nanotechnology is very important for the technological development of Costa Rica," says Benavides, who devised a method of nanotubule manufacture that reduced production costs from US$300 per gram to US$1 per gram.

The method will begin to be implemented at Lanotec shortly, and Benavides will also make joint investigations with the Costa Rican laboratory.

The 300 square metre Lanotec facility was built with an initial investment of about $50,000, and includes a 'clean room' featuring special conditions required for high tech materials research. These include a total absence of dust particles, minimal vibration and an environment free of negative charges, all of which could disrupt experiments.

The building is now being equipped, at an additional cost of several hundreds of thousands of dollars, and electron, magnetic and atomic force microscopes have already been bought. Authorities from Lanotec and Cenat expect the laboratory to be fully equipped soon.

The construction of Lanotec and the purchase of necessary equipment were funded by the Costa Rica - United States of America Foundation for Cooperation, the Costa Rican Ministry of Science and Technology's 'incentive fund', and the Pro-Cenat Foundation.

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