LIVERPOOL is to become the home of a nanotechnology centre of excellence.

The National Microsystems Packaging Centre will take tiny molecule-sized components and make useful devices with them for use in a whole range of industries.

The £40m centre will be based on the former Marconi site on Edge Lane, adjacent to Liverpool Digital on the Liverpool Science Park.

Dr George Baxter, head of science and innovation at economic regeneration body the Northwest Development Agency, explained the importance. He said: "In the field of nanotechnology there are lots of new inventions coming along that need to be

turned into useful devices. "The microsystems centre will produce prototypes using the nanotechnology - it will package it up into a workable device which can be used in the marketplace."

Nanotechnology involves studying and working with matter on an ultra-small scale - at the atomic, molecular or macromolecular range of approximately 1-100 nanometres. One nanometre is one-millionth of a millimetre and a single human hair is around 80,000 nanometres in width.

Dr Baxter said: "An analogy that we can use is a silicon microchip in a calculator - the chip by itself wouldn't do anything but it's useful in a calculator.

"A lot of the companies involved can't afford or don't have the technology to package their nanotechnology into a useful device. We will do it for them."

The building of the 80,000 sq ft centre will be funded by £10m of European Objective 1 money, £3m from the Department of Trade and Industry and the other £27m from the NWDA. Approval is expected to be granted within the next few months.

Dr Baxter said: "It's a great opportunity for Liverpool because it puts the city at the heart of the UK's nanotechnology industry. The DTI has a micro and nanotechnology strategy for the UK and has agreed that a packaging centre is vital to making the nation competitive."

The centre will employ a core team of around 30-40 people with more than 100 industry experts and academics getting involved when required.

Dr Baxter said: "If we get approval in the next few months we're looking at 18-24 months for its completion. It needs to be agreed by the NWDA, the Objective 1 team and the DTI, as well as the universities of Liverpool and Lancaster which will be involved in the project."