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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 January 2006, 07:08 GMT
City's big hope for tiny science
Impression of a "nanocar" made from a single molecule,  three to four nanometres across, developed by scientists in Texas
US scientists recently created a "nanocar" made from a single molecule
Work to develop tiny sensors that would sit in the human body and detect cancer cells will be carried out at a new research centre at Swansea University.

The Nanotechnology Centre, opening on Tuesday, is aimed at putting Wales at the cutting edge of the science.

Nanotechnology works with matter on an ultra-small scale - a nanometre is one millionth of a millimetre.

Thirty experts will work on a range of projects from biomedical implants to revolutionary printing techniques.

The UK government's chief scientific advisor, Professor David King, will open the centre, based in the university's school of engineering.

It brings together university experts in engineering, medicine, physics, biology and chemistry with the aim of developing projects beyond traditional areas of study.

Professor Steve Wilks
It has the potential to revolutionise the way we live
Professor Steve Wilks

To put the size of a nanometre in perspective - an average human hair is between 50,000 and 80,000 nanometres in width.

Head of the centre, Professor Steve Wilks, said: "Engineering at this scale is one of the greatest, most exciting challenges facing modern science.

"It has the potential to revolutionise the way we live, from creating miniaturised Star Trek-like electronic gadgets through to delivering medicines to specific sites within the human body".

One of the projects Prof King will be shown could have a major impact on the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

The centre, in collaboration with the medical school at Swansea, is working to develop a nanoscale sensor that would sit inside the human body and be capable of detecting cancer cells.

Researchers believe the ability to detect such cells in high-risk or recovering patients, at a level of sensitivity far beyond conventional diagnostic techniques, would contribute greatly to reducing mortality rates.

Nanotechnology research first began in Swansea in 2002 but this is the first time all the different disciplines have been brought under one roof.

University vice-chancellor Professor Richard B Davies said: "Swansea University already enjoys an outstanding international reputation for engineering.

"The multidisciplinary nanotechnology centre will ensure that we continue to lead the way not just in world-class fundamental science, but also in developing applications of the new science."

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