CNS originated as part of a new scientific initiative from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) under Dean Jeremy Knowles who saw the need for an extraordinary investment to propel Harvard research and education forward. In January 1999 FAS announced the commitment of $150 to $200 million to launch several new interdisciplinary research centers in the sciences.
Careful planning by the Harvard faculty had identified a strong scientific and technological need for the understanding and development of mesoscale materials and structures. This new challenge would not only require sophisticated facilities for imaging, nanofabrication, synthesis, and growth; it would also require cooperative research by physicists, chemists, biologists, engineers, and materials scientists working together at the intersection of their respective disciplines. The Center for Imaging and Mesoscale Structures (CIMS), the predecessor of CNS, was born from this vision.
Professor Bertrand I. Halperin was selected to be the faculty Scientific Director of the new Center and after an exhaustive search, Dr. Bill R. Appleton was hired in the Spring of 2000 as the first Director of CIMS.
In the fall of 2000, CIMS began to participate in the program to design and construct the new LISE building.
The original CIMS website was launched in January of 2001.
CIMS began to purchase equipment and hire technical staff as well as construct a second cleanroom in the basement of McKay Labs.
In 2002, the large equipment facilities purchased as part of the Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) were consolidated with CIMS facilities as well as the technical staff of both MRSEC and the Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center (NSEC). This initiative made CIMS the main source for centralized user facilities in the Oxford Street science campus.
The second floor cleanroom in McKay Labs underwent renovations in late 2002 – late 2003 including a new state-of-the-art toxic gas monitoring system.
The National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network (NNIN) proposal submitted to the National Science foundation by Cornell, Stanford, UCSB, Harvard and other institutions was awarded and began in March of 2004.
The CIMS/NNIN User Program was created and began rollout in June of 2004. New technical and administrative staff was hired to accommodate the needs of the NNIN and additional users this program brought to the Center.
Professor Bertrand I. Halperin, having seen the Center from inception to a large, successful entity, stepped down as Scientific Director in July 2004.
FAS announced that Professor of Physics, Charles M. Marcus will take over as Scientific Director, effective September, 2004. Soon after, Prof. Marcus announced the creation of Directors Group; Professors Capasso, Lieber, and Lichtman joined to create a four Faculty member committee to oversee the Center. (see CNS Management section for more information regarding the Directors Group.)
Directors Group announced formation of CIMS Committee to assist Directors Group in important CNS decisions in October 2004.
In November, 2004, Dr. Appleton left Harvard to accept a position at the University of Florida to oversee a new Center and building initiative similar to the one that led him to Harvard.
In November, Directors Group after discussion with CIMS Committee and FAS, decided to change the Center's name from Center for Mesoscale Structures (CIMS) to Center for Nanoscale Systems (CNS).
In April 2005, CIMS was reborn under the new name of CNS.
In January 2006, Dr. Eric Martin was hired as the new Technical Director of CNS to lead the Center.
July 2007, CNS moves into the new Laboratory for Integrated Science and Engineering (LISE).