Developers of nanotechnology are facing a conundrum. On one hand, new nanotechnology-based products have been produced and commercialized, yet on the other hand, the understanding of the underlying properties of nanoscale structures and materials is still in many areas at a fundamental level. While many US federal agencies, such as the DOD, DOE, EPA, NASA, NIH, NIST, and USDA, are making major inroads in nanotechnology R&D, their work can be furthered, and the time-to-market of nanoscale developments can possibly be shortened, with added local and regional collaboration throughout the US.
The growing number of regional nanotech initiatives that have taken root in the US is proof that the newest of industrial cycles - the nanotechnology era - has dawned. Impressive progress has been made at Stanford U., Cornell, and New York State’s Albany NanoTech Center, among others. As private-sector investment in nanotechnology is predicted to surpass government spending for the first time this year, it is almost certain that greater collaboration between the public and private sectors will help accelerate the commercialization of new nanoscale technologies and products.
The Pacific Northwest region of the US offers a unique collaborative model designed for public/private success. It is a framework that could accelerate regional, national, and global efforts to effectively spur nanotechnology development and commercialization.
The Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute (ONAMI) is the state’s signature research center. It is an unprecedented example of the power of collaboration involving academia (Oregon State U., Portland State U., and the U. of Oregon), a government-funded regional research laboratory (the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, WA), the Oregon state government, researchers at the Oregon Graduate Institute and the Oregon Health and Sciences U., and the “Silicon Forest” high-technology industry cluster of Oregon and southwest Washington. ONAMI is endowed with federal grant awards and state funding, and is supported by additional investments from private enterprise. Together, these organizations have the potential to lead the way in developing and commercializing nanotechnology.
The innovation derived from this collaborative effort speaks for itself. ONAMI partners are performing leadership research in areas ranging from flat-panel display manufacturing to environmental applications. Examples of their work include transparent transistors for displays that outperform amorphous silicon, miniature mobile cooling and micropower systems, and microscale reactors for biofuel, hydrogen, and chemical production.
With more than $22 million in funding from federal grants alone in the past year, Oregon is helping to pave the way to success in the world’s nanotechnology R&D. ONAMI is also benefiting the Pacific Northwest region by influencing local startups, bringing funding to the area, and adding jobs. Indeed, this “high-tech extension” model is critical to local economic development.
The collaborative approach between academia and the public technology sector is not new, but the aggressive regional approach in the formation of ONAMI is unique. ONAMI began in 2000 as a collaboration between the Center for Microtechnology-based Energy, Chemical, and Biological Systems at Oregon State U. and the Materials Science Institute and Center for Advanced Materials Characterization at the U. of Oregon. The partnership expanded in 2003 with an initiative at Portland State U.’s Center for Emerging Technologies. ONAMI has since evolved into an interdisciplinary mix of organizations that are applying research to commercial opportunities, with annual funding of $30 million.
While having the tools, the laboratory, and the academic background in engineering, materials science, and other disciplines plays a significant role, these aren’t the only factors necessary to further nanotechnology R&D. Nanotechnology can find its way into commercial applications only through interaction, networking, and collaboration among industry, academic, government, and investment entities.
With ONAMI as its anchor, Oregon and the Pacific Northwest serve as a model that other regions in the US should consider as a means to enhance our global competitiveness.
For more information, contact Jay Lindquist, ONAMI Advisory Board member and VP, business development, at FEI Co., 5350 NE Dawson Creek Dr., Hillsboro, OR 97124; ph 503/726-7500, fax 503/726-7509, e-mail email@example.com; or visit www.onami.us.