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.

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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."