New Jersey pools its resources for faster-to-market small tech

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MURRAY HILL, N.J. Nov. 12, 2002 — For the newly incorporated New Jersey Nanotechnology Consortium (NJNC), the working motto is “concept to commercialization.”

A nonprofit corporation headquartered at Lucent Technologies’ Bell Labs, NJNC’s goal is to leverage the center’s 40 years of experience commercializing technology, much of it on the micro- and nanoscale.

With a new chief executive in place, the group itself is moving off the drawing board. Larry Thompson is joining the NJNC this week. Thompson served as vice president of advanced technology at Ultratech Stepper Inc., a leading maker of photolithography equipment for the semiconductor industry, and as president of Ultrabeam Lithography, a division of Ultratech.

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According to Om Nalamasu, the consortium’s chief technology officer, companies that want to unlock the commercial potential of small tech need to pool their financial and intellectual resources much as the semiconductor industry has grown through its SEMATECH consortium.

At a recent gathering at Bell Labs sponsored by the New Jersey Technology Council, Nalamasu said that the organization’s central aim was to help participating companies and institutions move quickly from research to prototyping of next generation nanoscale devices. NJNC’s initial focus will be on MEMS devices and nanotechnology for optical and biotech applications.

First announced in August by New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey, NJNC is bringing state government, local universities and corporations together in a partnership designed to build the region’s economy and speed the progress of small tech.

Nalamasu, the outgoing director of Lucent’s Nanofabrication Lab, said that the consortium has secured $8 million of a projected $12 million annual operating budget and is close to inking membership agreements with several corporations and institutions.

About one third of the consortium’s budget would come from membership fees from university partners such as founding member New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) and corporate members such as Lucent, which is contributing its Nanofabrication Lab to the group.

Another third would stem from revenues for consortium-developed commercial products or intellectual property and services such as R&D for startup companies. The final third of the budget would likely come from federal and state funding and research grants.

The 18-year Bell Labs veteran is leaving Lucent to become director of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Center for Integrated Electronics. Nalamasu said he will continue working as the consortium’s chief technology officer and hopes RPI will be able to participate in it.

“One area I’m particularly interested in is finding ways to get all these different efforts such as Albany NanoTech, the regional NSF nanocenters and the New Jersey consortium working together in an effective network,” he said.

He noted that NJNC is busy recruiting large and small corporate members across the biotech, energy, chemical and pharmaceutical industries. It is also in discussions with a number of small tech startups to provide technical expertise and equipment to speed their commercialization.

Like SEMATECH, the semiconductor industry’s consortium, NJNC members would benefit by sharing in revenue generated by consortium-developed technology. Members would also be allowed to assign a number of their own scientists to work in NJNC’s labs.

InMat LLC., based in Hillsborough, N.J., is an example of the kind of local small tech company the consortium might work with. At the New Jersey Technology Council meeting, InMat President Harris Goldberg outlined his company’s success in developing a nanocomposite material that seals rubber. The nanomaterial is already being used in Wilson Double Core tennis balls. Goldberg said InMat is also working with the Department of Defense on special gloves for handling toxic materials.

Gordon Thomas, an NJIT professor of physics and biomedical engineering, told the audience that NJIT, Rutgers, Princeton and NJNC are pitching the NSF on a new nanocenter specializing in photonics that would utilize the consortium’s labs.

Thomas said the collaboration with the consortium and access to its exceptional lab facilities, including one of the most sophisticated electron-beam etching facilities in the world, was the proposal’s strong card. He did note that as many as 100 groups will be vying for one of only two nanocenters to be funded by the NSF this year.

If the group succeeds, Thomas said, 15 of the $18 million, five-year funding would go to the three universities, with the remaining $3 million earmarked for NJNC.

Kambiz Pourrezaei, a biomedical engineering professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia, discussed some of the life sciences work going on at Southeastern Pennsylvania Nanotechnology Center and how his group might be able to collaborate with NJNC.

Pourrezaei said the Pennsylvania nanocenter, a collaboration between Drexel, the University of Pennsylvania and the Ben Franklin Institute, was working on biosensors, drug delivery devices, tissue engineering and proteomics.

Pourrezaei concluded that if the New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware region is to compete with California, Texas and New York in small tech, “we have to form alliances and collaborate regionally.”


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