September 27, 2010
By: by Larry Rulison, Times Union
The Capital Region's greatest export right now might just be nanotechnology.
That's because the University at Albany's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering has embarked on an ambitious plan to spread its development model -- and high-tech research capabilities -- across upstate New York.
The program is part of a larger economic development strategy undertaken by the college to partner with leading technology companies on research and development that has also led directly to some of the region's largest business deals -- including helping to attract GlobalFoundries and its $4.6 billion computer chip factory to Saratoga County.
"I think it's one of the most successful economic development models in the state," said Alain Kaloyeros, the NanoCollege's chief executive officer. "The uniqueness of it is changing the way the state is looking at funding high-tech initiatives."
Last week, the state said it was merging one of its so-called Centers of Excellence in the Rochester area with the NanoCollege, the latest move to leverage the $6 billion in private and public money that has been invested in the school, which operates out of the Albany NanoTech complex on Fuller Road in Albany.
With that merger, the Infotonics Technology Center in Canandaigua officially become part of the NanoCollege to develop the next generation of micro-electromechanical systems, also known as MEMS.
MEMS, which combine mechanical systems with computer chips, are used in devices such as cell phones and video games like Nintendo's Wii and are becoming increasingly complex. Kodak, a key partner in the Infotonics center, uses MEMS for its ink jet printers.
As part of the merger, the center was renamed the Smart System Technology and Commercialization Center, and Paul Tolley, the center's CEO, has become a vice president at the NanoCollege.
The announcement follows similar ones the NanoCollege has made along the Thruway corridor, where it has collaborated with companies and organizations like Lockheed Martin in Syracuse and SUNY IT outside Utica.
The Syracuse Post-Standard newspaper wrote in an editorial that the $28 million center being created by the state in the Syracuse suburb of Salina is "evidence of a significant shift in job-creation strategy" in central New York.
But there is more to follow -- and it won't all be confined to upstate cities.
Kaloyeros said the NanoCollege is in the final stages of developing a program with SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn to offer a medical degree and a doctorate in nanotechnology.
Other programs are in the works with The City University of New York, focusing on energy and super-computing. Kaloyeros says the higher education programs are being created to meet the growing demand by students who want to focus their studies on nanotechnology, which essentially is technology at the atomic and molecular level. Nanotechnology has applications in not only computer chip development, but also in medicine, homeland defense, energy and even textiles.
The NanoCollege isn't the only one looking to create partnerships in technology. Edward Reinfurt, the executive director of the New York State Foundation for Science, Technology and Innovation, also known as NYSTAR, says his office and others in the state are working to bring resources from all parts of the state together so they don't just operate regionally.
"You see the growth of the nanotechnology reach," Reinfurt said. "We are looking in the same way to align more of our resources so that they're not seen as regional assets. They want to work together. We all can complement each other."
For instance, Reinfurt says he'd like to see two of the state's so-called Centers for Advanced Technology at Clarkson University and Alfred University, which deal in materials science, to collaborate with the Army's Benet Laboratory at Watervliet Arsenal. Benet helps design the cannon and other weapons that the Arsenal produces.
"We've got to get a relationship there," Reinfurt said. "There's very much a need to have this alignment of resources."
Empire State Development, the state's economic development arm, has also been involved in promoting such collaboration when it sees opportunities.
Kaloyeros says that while the rest of the state should benefit from the export of the NanoCollege's resources, the programs will also bolster what's going on here in the Capital Region.
That includes a major expansion of the Albany NanoTech complex onto land that the school owns north of Washington Avenue Extension. As many as three new buildings with nearly half a million square feet of new space would be built, including a garage. The new facilities would help the school bolster its programs in the energy and medical fields, which are the fastest-growing areas in nanotechnology.
Of course at the end of the day, Kaloyeros says that growing the facility at the NanoCollege is at the core of all of this growth. The school has built its faculty from just a handful in 2004 to about 50 today, but Kaloyeros says that schools like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have hundreds of faculty by comparison.
"We need to continue to build our faculty and skill set to support innovation," Kaloyeros said. "There is a critical mass we need to achieve as a college."
Larry Rulison can be reached at 454-5504 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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