By Jeff Karoub
Small Times Staff Writer

Aug. 8, 2001 — New Mexico’s three largest research institutions have formed a group intended to help make the “Land of Enchantment” the land of advancement in nanotechnology.

The creation of the New Mexico Nanoscience Alliance – consisting of Sandia National Laboratories, Los Alamos National Laboratory and the University of New Mexico (UNM) – was announced Tuesday by leaders of the labs and school.

They said the alliance will be open to all state institutions with an interest in nanoscience. Its purpose will be to push nanotechnology research and development in New Mexico and provide a forum for establishing partnerships among all of the research efforts in the state.

Terry Michalske, a senior manager at Sandia, described the alliance as a forum for communications and the development of collaborations. To do that, the group will use seminars, newsletters and other efforts to link researchers.

“The alliance is looking to generate new ways for this great new science and technology to get out of the lab and into business,” he said.

Specifically, Michalske said the agreement calls for the labs to create joint professorships in nanoscience at UNM. “This would allow the labs and university to really be linked together at the hip – we see this as a very important outcome.”

State leaders created the consortium as a way to work around a political issue as the U.S. Congress mulls an appropriation bill that would provide money for the creation of a Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies. That center will be run by Sandia and Los Alamos and is scheduled to open in about three years.

The center is expected to be one of three proposed nanotechnology centers in the nation, which will be open to proposals from government, businesses and industry for nanotechnology research and development.

UNM originally was part of the proposal, but the U.S. Department of Energy removed it because the bill would provide direct funding to the school without a bidding process involving other universities.

“It’s just to provide the opportunity for fair play for other people,” said Brian Valentine, program manager with the Department of Energy’s office of industrial technologies and part of the National Nanotechnology Initiative, which provides about $400 million annually for nanoscale research.

Michalske, who also will serve as director of the center, said UNM is not involved in running the center, but it will be a full and active participant in it.

“It will be a nationally open user facility, and many of the users, of course, will be university faculty and students,” he said.

“Issues around the governance were a bit tricky. It’s not hard to imagine a conflict of interest developing there, having one university in governance, and all the others participants. This allows (UNM) to be unencumbered.”

Valentine said the Nanoscience Alliance is good for all of the partners, but especially so for UNM. It provides a team of dedicated researchers, a stable link to the government labs, and allows the university to forge ahead in a research area without the heavy financial burden schools typically face.

The area already has its share of small tech success stories.

The announcement was held at Technology Ventures Corp. in Albuquerque, which was founded in 1993 by Martin Marietta to help Sandia transfer its technology to the private sector.

Since its inception, Technology Ventures has helped create 40 businesses in the area, with nearly $300 million in funding, and create more than 3,000 jobs. It also has helped lure nine venture-capital companies to an area that had none.

Michalske also cited Zia Laser, which recently secured $6 million in venture-capital funding to launch a company that will develop lasers based on quantum dots. That company spun out of UNM’s labs.

On the down side, the partnership could limit the university’s freedom in forging its own path in nanotechnology research, Valentine said.

“The (university) will probably mostly be taking suggestions on research areas from the labs, rather than forging their own,” he said.

In the long run, he said, the labs benefit because they get a supply of researchers trained in the appropriate areas and culture. In the short run, the labs could receive help on certain projects from the university for a much lower cost than it would cost them independently.

For its part, UNM is not concerned about losing its independence. In fact, the alliance’s first director is expected to be from the university.

“We’re looking for a true partnership,” said Steve Brueck, director of the university’s Center for High Technology Materials.

“I’m not sure we’re joined at the hip so much as we’ll collaborate and work together. … There’s plenty to do, believe me. It will require all the expertise we’ve got to begin to cover it.”

Brueck said the university likewise is not crying foul over losing shared control of the emerging nanotechnology center.

“We’ll compete for the benefits of that facility,” he said. “It’s fair to hope we will be a significant player in that.”


Jeff Karoub [email protected] or call 734-528-6291.


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