An advanced research facility dedicated to the research and development of new materials on a minute scale has officially opened in Edmonton.

About 180 researchers are already setting up in the $52.2-million National Institute for Nanotechnology, which officially opened on Thursday.

Nanotechnology combines biology, physics and engineering to manipulate atoms and molecules on a microscopic scale.

Engineers work in the scale of a nanometre - one billionth of a metre, or 100,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair.

Nanotechnology is already used to put thin metallic film on the inside of bags to preserve potato chips, and to develop better sunscreens.

Second-to-none facilities

The research resources at the new institute are second-to-none, said Bob Wolkow, a University of Alberta physics professor who helped to create a nanoscale transistor that could lead to faster electronic devices.

In the field of biology, Shannon Lubitz, the institute's technical officer, is working towards changing the DNA in E.coli bacteria. Lubitz aims to reprogram the microbe's ability to swim toward sugar and digest it to break up life-threatening blood clots, for example.

The first floor includes a suite of labs in "Canada's quietest space," designed that way because the finely calibrated equipment used in nano-scale research needs to free of noise, vibrations and interference from electro-magnetic fields.

The 20,000-square-metre building is also shared by the University of Alberta.

Of the national institute's preliminary budget of $120 million for the first five years, half comes from federal government, and half from the Alberta government and University of Alberta.