June 20, 2011

Area R&D Center Touted

By: by Larry Rulison, Business Writer



ALBANY -- A $50 million federally funded nanotechnology center in Albany moved one step closer to becoming a reality this week.

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand included language in the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act that directs the Department of Defense to study the creation of a federal research and development center for nanotechnology. Gillibrand is also seeking $50 million that could be used as start-up funding.

Gillibrand inserted the language in cooperation with U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, who included a similar amendment in the House's version.

Gillibrand sits on the Senate's Armed Services Committee that approved the bill, which still must be approved by the full Senate and, ultimately, by President Obama.

Although the R&D center could be anywhere in the country, both Gillibrand and Gibson, who worked with U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, have suggested that the federal nanotech center would be best placed at the University at Albany's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering.

"It would be a great investment (for the NanoCollege) and our military," Gillibrand said.

Even though the NanoCollege already has $7 billion in investment from the private sector and government sources, including $1 billion from New York state, landing a federally funded research center would be a coup for the school and the region.

Roughly 40 such centers across the U.S. support technological research for various federal agencies -- and some are larger than the NanoCollege itself.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology operates one at Hanscom Air Force Base outside Boston called Lincoln Laboratory that has 3,000 employees and an annual budget of more than $700 million. The NanoCollege has about 2,500 employees.

Gillibrand's version is even more generous than the version written by Gibson, which set aside $7 million in start-up funds.

Alain Kaloyeros, chief executive officer of the NanoCollege, said Friday a $50 million center would leave a lasting footprint on the school, which earlier this year landed Sematech, the computer chip consortium started in Austin, Texas, that is credited with reviving the U.S. semiconductor industry in the 1980s and 90s.

"Silicon Valley was not built by the semiconductor industry," Kaloyeros said. "It was built by defense money."

The military is interested in nanoscience because the coatings and composite materials made by the technology can make weapons and other equipment lighter, durable and less expensive. Small sensors are also important to battlefield operations.