06 January 2009 Institute of Nanotechnology

Ottilia Saxl, Founder and CEO of the Institute of Nanotechnology, Announces Retirement

Dr Mark Morrison Appointed New CEO

Ottilia Saxl

Ottilia Saxl

On the 31 st January 2009, Ottilia Saxl , founder of the Institute of Nanotechnology, announced her retirement after eleven years at the helm, first as a Director and then as CEO.

Ottilia established the Institute in January 1997 to fill the gap that existed for an organization that would act as a focus for the growing interest in nanotechnology.

At that time, most learned Institutes in the UK had their roots in the nineteenth century or earlier, and were created essentially to establish good standards of practice in engineering, science and medicine, and to provide forums to promote debate and the advancement of knowledge. Given that any new scientific Institute might require a hundred or more years to become established, it seemed a daunting task to create a new one. However, the time was ripe to try something different. Ottilia's vision was for a new kind of learned organization that would not only address the needs of the emerging interest in nanotechnology, but would differ dramatically from the traditional model. She wanted it to be inclusive, rather than exclusive; international, rather than national; utilise the latest in information technology (an emerging means of rapidly and effectively communicating with the outside world) rather than be paper-based; and it would not invest in buildings, but in knowledge.

So, in 1997, the Institute of Nanotechnology , a new Institute with a new approach, was born. Its aim was to bring together the different scientific communities, as well as involving other disciplines, such as psychologists, sociologists, historians and artists, and last but not least, the general public as the most important stakeholder in any emerging technology.

So what was so special about nanotechnology that it needed a new Institute? 'Before Nano' the scientific world had been essentially divided into empires, called ‘disciplines'. The divisions between disciplines were fixed, like the borders between countries, and acted as effective barriers to the sharing of ideas. The new branch of scientific discovery, called nanoscience (based on a growing understanding of the properties of matter at the scale of atoms and molecules) arrived in the latter part of the 20 th Century. As nanotechnology forced people to think and work in a multidisciplinary way, these artificial barriers began to be broken down

Since its inception, under Ottilia's stewardship, the Institute has worked to bring together a diverse group of scientists and engineers, involve the general public in the debate and discussion, and thus create a whole that is much greater than the sum of its parts. Communication was facilitated by the technological miracle of the internet, which made it easy for the Institute to become an internationally respected and influential organization, almost overnight. Today, the Institute, a registered charity, has over 85,000 associate, professional or corporate members. It is is now a global leader in nanotechnology information provision, and provides almost encyclopaedic content in its website, which is now one of the most popular nanotechnology websites in the world. The Institute also runs many networks, each with their own website, including a NanoMedicine network, a NanoMasters network for those involved in education and training; a NanoChina network to bring together individuals and companies in or interested in nanotrechnology in China, and a NanoMicroClub to network and provide support and mentoring for start-up companies.

Ottilia said: “I am leaving the Institute at a time when its future looks secure, with income guaranteed from projects and contracts for the next four years at least. I am particularly proud that the Institute has been chosen by the European Commission to lead a nanotechnology observatory for Europe , which is already providing high-level socio-economic analyses on emerging nanotechnologies that will shape European nanotechnology policy in the future”.

She continued: “Other Institute activities that I am particularly pleased with, as part of our commitment to inclusivity, include a new EU-funded project that will help make scientific information available to all, through a repository of open-access nanopublications, called ICPCNanonet; and also the superlative NanoCharM project, which is about promoting and developing the use of non-destructive optical techniques to characterize nanoparticles, nanomaterials and thin films, so utterly criticial to the future commercialization of nanotechnology”.

Regarding the guiding principles of the Institute, Ottilia stated: “I have always been committed to the Institute being viewed by the public as objective, and that its views would be trusted. I have maintained we are the Institute of Nanotechnology, not the Institute for Nanotechnology. My belief is that all technologies come with benefits and downsides, and it is only when the downsides are known and understood that they can then be managed, and all the potential benefits realised”.

A key objective Ottilia has also pursued for the Institute is to actively promote those nanotechnologies which could offer real social and environmental benefits, for example in healthcare, in treating diseases of the developing world, in solar energy, and in reducing environmental pollution.

Finally, when asked to reflect on what she thought were the main landmarks of the Institute's history, Ottilia replied, “Winning the prestigious Nanoforum project in 2002 was key to establishing the Institute as a key player in Europe , which led to the opportunity to lead the exciting, important and influential Observatory Nano project in 2008. Another highlight for me was IoN winning the right to hold the flagship conference of the UK 's Presidency of the EU in Edinburgh in 2005, on the theme of ‘Nanotechnology and the Heath of the EU Citizen in 2020'. This resulted in a prestigious BBC ‘Newsnight' programme which examined the issues raised by the conference. My hope for the next milestone is that the Institute will soon be recognised as the accrediting body for Nano Masters degree courses, which we are presently working towards”.

When asked what her greatest disappointment was, she said that it wasn't so much a disappointment as a real sadness that some important UK nano projects were (and still are) being awarded without going to competitive tender, which has perhaps resulted in a slower takeup of nanotechnologies by UK industry than should have been the case.

Dr Mark Morrison

Ottilia is enthusiastic about the new management team at the Institute. “I am happy to leave in the knowledge that the ethos and success of the Institute will be taken forward and built on by Dr Mark Morrison. Mark has been the Scientific Manager of the Institute for over five years, and was instrumental in delivering the hugely successful EU-funded Nanoforum project, and now, in winning the ObservatoryNano and ICPCNanonet projects. Mark has a track record of excellence, not only in science but also in management and he has a thorough understanding of the Institute and the environment it operates in. He is well-respected and liked by the nanocommunity across Europe and beyond, and will take the Institute on to even greater things. Mark will be ably supported by Andrew Stewart, who is Operations Manager at the Institute, and Del Stark, the new Business Development Manager, who has been winkled away from his successful leadership of ENTA, to work the same magic at the IoN by bringing the business community on board to support the work of the Institute. These managers are also lucky in that they are supported by the other staff at the Institute, an absolutely first class team.”

Regarding the future, Ottilia has said she will not be entirely divorced from nanotechnology, as she will now concentrate on growing NANO, the magazine which aims to spread the word about nanotechnology to the business and lay world. She will also take over the interim management of ENTA, the European Nanotechnology Trade Alliance, and she will continue to support the aims of the Institute, where possible, from the sidelines

Ottilia went on to acknowledge the efforts of the many members of the Institute's Advisory Group who have freely given their time and knowledge over the years. “I would like to thank the Group and also its Chairpersons for their tremendous contribution, notably Tony Atkinson of Chimaeron, Brian More of Coventry University , John Ryan of Oxford University and Jim Darwent, then at Unilever. I wish the new Chairman, Richard Jones of Sheffield University, every success, particularly in taking forward the Institute's activities in nanomedicine, and its work in public engagement”. She continued: “The Institute owes a debt of gratitude to its Trustees, especially the Chairman, Bill Stimson of Strathclyde University (who has been associated with the Institute from the beginning), Brian More and Rodger Stevenson; and I thank the new Trustees, Jim Darwent, currently with Liverpool University, and Brendan Casey of Kelvin Nanotechnology, and wish them well ”. She added: “The Institute will always be grateful for the support of the extraordinary Albert Franks, our first Honorary President, sadly now deceased”.

Finally, Ottilia wished to thank Rodger Stevenson, who, over 11 years, has supported the Institute by putting all the quality systems in place, acting as HR Manager and taking the Institute on the journey that culminated in the vitally important award of ‘Investors in People'.

Source: Institute of Nanotechnology /...


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