January 11, 2006

Albany Leads In Tiny Realm

By: by Kenneth Aaron, Staff Writer, Albany Times Union


ALBANY -- A new nanotechnology research consortium intent on finding a successor to the traditional way of building silicon microchips could give a big boost to the University at Albany's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering.

Besides the $240 million that UAlbany is expected to reap from the project over the next five years, the school also stands to gain stature in the academic world. It has been designated head of the consortium, which includes six other schools: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, Yale University, Purdue University and the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Gov. George Pataki is expected to announce the state's $80 million contribution to the $435 million project today.

The consortium, dubbed the Institute for Nanoelectronics Discovery and Exploration, was formed by the Semiconductor Industry Association, a Silicon Valley-based trade group, and Semiconductor Research Corp., a North Carolina group that links companies with university researchers.

The two formed a sister consortium in Silicon Valley.

On Monday night, Pataki said that 10 years ago the center would have belonged to the West Coast. But the industry's decision to put its second site in Albany "speaks incredibly loud" to the success of New York's investment here.

UAlbany, he said, is "becoming the academic center for nanoelectronics in America."

"The next step beyond this is to get the private-sector industrial investment" to build technology factories here, Pataki said.

Assembly Democrats also welcomed news of the consortium. "This designation of Albany Nanotech as a national center for cutting-edge research is obvious proof of the wisdom of the Assembly's initial investment in this research and the continued commitment we've shown with the announcement of INVENT this past year," said Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, who was referring to a related initiative announced over the summer.

Much of the financing for the work will come from industry players, including IBM, Intel and Samsung. The federal government is also expected to pick up the tab for some of the research. An additional $100 million will be spent in Georgia for a research center there.

UAlbany President Kermit Hall said the relationships UAlbany will forge as a result of the project will not only draw more corporate research to the school -- he mentioned luring chip-giant Intel as a possibility -- but will give it new standing in academia.

"It puts the university in a leadership position," Hall said Monday afternoon. "For all of the people who were doubters about this enterprise, this particular award should really quell that discussion. Albany is a dead serious player when it comes to nanotechnology and engineering."

UAlbany has attracted attention in recent years as New York state and companies such as IBM have lavished billions of dollars on the gleaming, 450,000-square-foot complex at the corner of Washington Avenue Extension and Fuller Road. With the latest partnership, one that revolves around other institutions more than business, UAlbany is reaching to bolster its status in that community.

Of the consortium's members, UAlbany is the only one without an engineering school -- a potential roadblock in its aspirations to become a major nanotechnology hub. But the latest announcement, which state officials hoped would position New York state for 50 years to come, could do everything from attract new faculty to provide impetus for further investments in its engineering curriculum, Hall said.

Alain Kaloyeros, vice president and chief administrative officer of UAlbany's nanotechnology college, said he expected faculty levels at the school to triple over the next five years. That growth will be paid for by endowments the college hopes to create.

"SUNY went from being a non-player, to being a subcontractor, to being a partner, to now being a leader" in research of huge importance to the future of the tech industry, Kaloyeros said Monday.

Microchip development has relied on an axiom known as Moore's Law, which holds that the power of a chip will double about every two years.

The limits of silicon technology, though, are standing in the way of continuing that law much beyond 2020. One big problem, Kaloyeros said, is that high-powered silicon chips simply get too hot.

Other technologies promise to alleviate some of that heat. One possible thread, known as spintronics, relies on certain properties of an electron to make a circuit, rather than on the charge of the electron. Another option would be to make transistors from carbon-based molecules, essentially building circuits by mimicking the ways in which living cells work. Both possibilities will be explored at UAlbany.

Some of the work will be completed in a new 100,000-square-foot laboratory and clean room annex that will be built on the site of an equipment shed at the Albany NanoTech complex. That $30 million lab space will be paid for by the state and will be next to a $55 million, 150,000-square-foot office building that has yet to go up.

UAlbany has been seeking a developer for the office building. Both are expected to be finished by 2007.

RPI is the only other New York state institution to participate in the consortium. "We appreciate the governor's ongoing support of the expansion of nanotechnology research in the region," said spokeswoman Theresa Bourgeois.

Upstate's future hinges on the investments, Pataki said. "I have no doubt that this is truly transformational for the upstate economy," he said.