February 12, 2007

UAlbany NanoCollege Taps Rising Star At GE

By: by Larry Rulison, Business Writer, Times Union


ALBANY -- A prominent young scientist from GE Global Research is making the plunge into academia and taking his cutting-edge nanotechnology research to the University at Albany.

Ji Ung Lee, 38, made the move from GE's sprawling technology campus in Niskayuna to UAlbany's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering two weeks ago.

"Going into academics is something that I've always dreamed of," Lee said. "I think it's an exciting time."

At the NanoCollege, Lee will be an associate professor of nanoengineering, joining a faculty of 40 that teaches graduate-level courses in the areas of nanoscience, nanoengineering, nanobioscience and nanoeconomics. The college has 120 students and awards both master's and doctoral degrees.

Although other professors at the college have come from industry, Lee's move to the NanoCollege is significant because his research into carbon nanotube diodes has received such wide acclaim. It also helps to bolster the NanoCollege's status as the No. 1 college for nanotechnology by Small Times magazine, a trade publication.

"The NanoCollege is seeking the best and the brightest as it builds its faculty," NanoCollege spokesman Steve Janack said. "And Dr. Lee is a great example that that is taking place."

Todd Alhart, a spokesman for GE Global Research, declined comment on Lee's move, saying GE has a policy of not commenting on personnel matters.

In August 2005, a team of GE researchers led by Lee made a breakthrough in nanotechnology by developing carbon nanotube diodes that operate at the "theoretical limit" -- meaning the best performance possible. Carbon nanotube diodes are infinitesimally small tubes that one day could be used in place of silicon transistors on computer chips and have other applications in biotechnology and energy.

The discovery was featured by media around the world, and Lee has received numerous awards for his research. He also won the Hull Award, given to the most outstanding scientist at GE Global Research.

Lee said he was excited to work with the dozens of high-profile semiconductor and electronics companies that make their home at the college's $3.5 billion Albany NanoTech complex. That list includes IBM Corp., Intel Corp., Advanced Micro Devices Inc. and even GE.

Carbon nanotube diodes also have an application in photovoltaic technology (solar energy) because when they are exposed to light, they produce an electric current.

Pradeep Haldar, a professor at the NanoCollege who also runs its Energy and Environmental Technologies Applications Center, which studies solar energy and other alternative energy sources, says he knows Lee and his work well.

"Definitely his interest in the photovoltaic area is going to help us grow," Haldar said. "He's done some really groundbreaking work in that area."

Lee's move also is significant because it shows that a prominent scientist doesn't have to leave the area to make a jump into a different field. The Albany-Colonie Regional Chamber of Commerce and other economic development groups have been trying to ensure that workers don't have to move to New York City or Boston find high-paying jobs.

"One of the missions (of the chamber) is to promote a positive business climate that ensures the availability of a variety of outstanding employment opportunities for all generations living in Tech Valley," spokesman John Spadafora said.