May 20, 2011

What A Nano Conference Says About UAlbany

By: by Robin K. Cooper, The Business Review


IBM, Intel, Toshiba and Panasonic-as well as numerous universities from across the world-were represented at the conference.

An elite group of semiconductor executive and researchers visited Albany this week after their conference hastily was moved across the globe following the tsunami that struck Northeastern Japan.

The University at Albany's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering hosted 150 senior-level executives and scientists from Japan, Germany and Belgium, as well as Nobel Prize-winning physicist Leo Esaki.

The four-day International Nanotechnology Conference on Communication and Cooperation-which typically takes a year to plan-was moved to Albany and organized in six weeks.

"It brought in a good chunk of business," said Kathy Tabora, general manager of the Holiday Inn Express in Albany. "And it happened on short notice."

Conference attendees booked 120 room nights at the 121-room hotel starting last Sunday, Tabora said. The conference ran through Thursday.

Melissa Preston, assistant vice president of special events at CNSE, said attendees booked a similar number of rooms at nearby SpringHill Suites Marriott.

"I have a lot of respect for them that they took in the conference on short notice," said Roger De Keersmaecker, an attendee and senior vice president of strategic relations at IMEC, a Belgium-based nanotechnology research center and direct competitor of CNSE.

"I was in Tokyo on March 11 when the tsunami happened," he said. "I saw the despair."

The prestigious conference focuses on developments and research related to nanotechnology research and collaboration around the world.

Behind the scenes it was Paolo Gargini, director of technology strategy for Intel Corp., who pushed to move the conference to Albany, said Daniel Armbrust, president and CEO of Sematech.

"This is another validation that this is arguably the best place in the world for pre-competitive [semiconductor] technology research," Armbrust said.

Armbrust moved the majority of Sematech operations from Texas to Albany earlier this year because of all the investment that was happening here, including the new $4.6 billion chip plant being built by GlobalFoundries in Malta.

Gargini said UAlbany and CNSE were scheduled to host the event in 2012. After the powerful earthquake and tsunami that struck the northeast coast of Japan in March, he asked CNSE vice president and Chief Administrative Officer Alain Kaloyeros for help.

UAlbany's nanotechnology center has grown into a $7 billion research hub with 250 corporate partners and more than 2,500 employees because of Kaloyeros's vision and because of the state government's willingness to help finance it, Gargini said.

"There aren't too many places that are investing this much into research," he said.

Event organizer Makoto Hirayama, who has been a professor at CNSE since 2003, said the strength and prestige of the conference is not due to the number of attendees. The conference attracts some of the biggest corporations, universities and a wide range of international government officials, he said.

Hirayama, who grew up in Tokyo, said half of his mission at CNSE is to develop international alliances and the conference gives him a chance to visit with many key players at once.

Representatives from IBM, Intel, Toshiba and Panasonic attended the event. Universities sending scientists included the Tokyo Institute of Technology, UCLA, Penn State, the University of Texas, Notre Dame, ­Ghent University in Belgium and the University of Washington.

Other attendees included Japanese government cabinet members and the European Commission.

De Keersmaecker of IMEC said he last visited Albany 10 years ago.

"At the time, I thought this is a university with a big appetite," he said.

"I have seen this area develop from a university with an ambition into a real center of research and private industry," De Keersmaecker said. "There is no denying it. We are direct competitors. But competition keeps us on our toes."