Nano goes to college this fall with its own academic program

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ALBANY, N.Y., May 13, 2004 — Come this fall semester, Albany Nanotech and the University at Albany will open one of the world’s first full-fledged College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE).

On April 20, the State University of New York’s board of trustees approved a plan proposed by Gov. George Pataki in January to upgrade Albany’s current academic program, a school awarding doctorates and master’s in six areas of study, to an official college.

Located in the same fast-growing facilities that house Albany’s nanoelectronics center and the International SEMATECH North consortium, CNSE, which Albany Nanotech Executive Director Alain Kaloyeros pronounces “sense,” will be an unconventional institution bridging the academic and business worlds.

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Ph.D.s and M.S. degrees won’t be awarded in traditional fields such as physics or chemistry, but will revolve around novel multidisciplinary “clusters” such as Nanosystems Sciences and Technologies or Molecular Materials and Architectures.

Similarly, faculty won’t be hired into narrow academic silos or work within a typical departmental structure, said Kaloyeros. Nor will professor “own” their own labs in the way some at other universities inhabit tenured fiefdoms.

But professors will have the opportunity to work across disciplines, teach both students and visiting researchers from the corporate world, and keep feet in both academia research and industrial commercialization.

Professor Eric Lifshin, who came to Albany from General Electric’s nearby global research center and heads CNSE curricula committee, noted that while Albany Nanotech has a close relationship with the semiconductor industry, the scope of the college will be broader than nanoelectronics. “We’ll be working with MEMS, optoelectronics, thin films and many other aspects of nanotechnology.”

The real test, of course, is whether such a way new school can attract top faculty and students, and shape both into a new generation of nanotechnologists.

Currently, the college has about 25 faculty members and 75 students, but Kaloyeros expects the faculty to grow to 75 by 2006, and student enrollment to reach 500 in five years. Already, more than 250 researchers from companies including IBM, Infineon Technologies AG, Advanced Micro Devices and others are on site, gearing up to work in the mammoth 425,000-square-foot Albany Nanotech

complex that will be the college’s home. Albany officials expect to host more than 1,000 industry researchers by the end of 2006.

Kaloyeros said CNSE will do things that colleges haven’t traditionally done, such as work with community colleges to train technicians, tool operators and software specialists for a nanotech workforce. He also sees the college growing beyond the physical nanosciences to include nanobiotechnology and even nanoeconomics, the business of small tech.

“This is the biggest experiment I’ve ever been involved with,” said associate professor Robert Greer, who came to Albany from the Naval Research Laboratory in 1996. Greer conceded that the college’s novel strategy is unproven, and that Albany doesn’t yet have the academic brand power of a Stanford, MIT or Harvard. But for the grad students already working with him on projects such as building devices stacked on top of each other, he noted that most of them get to dive immediately into research and work in teams.

Greer, other faculty and students all said that one of the CNSE’s greatest attraction is the access it offers to some of the most advanced tools and technologies in the world which are being tested and developed through Albany Nanotech and SEMATECH in the consortium’s R&D fab. Rubbing elbows with researchers from Intel, Veeco and Motorola is another obvious appeal.

With respect to tools, a tour of the burgeoning complex included a look at the latest in atomic layer deposition tools, the Genus Strategem 300, being used to develop an advanced infrared sensor system for Raytheon. A visit to the metrology group led by Lifshin, showed a $900,000 instrument that Carl Zeiss NTS GmbH was calibrating. Michael Fancher, Albany Nanotech’s director of economic outreach, said the device was a kind of Swiss Army Knife of tools, able to take a range of images, chemically analyze a sample and even etch or carve into a surface.

For Kathleen Dunn, an associate professor with expertise in leading-edge measuring tools, the appeal of joining CNSE was a matter of “being involved in something from the start and having a role in how it takes shape.”

On the subject of measurement, James Yardley, director of Columbia University’s NSF-funded nanocenter, said that Albany Nanotech has built an impressive operation in a short period of time, but the most important question about this first college of nanotechnology is how its success will be measured.

Indeed, Pataki has put his political weight behind the college’s creation and Albany Nanotech as part of a statewide initiative to renew upstate New York’s economy by turning the capital district into “Tech Valley” to rival its silicon counterpart in California.

On that score, observers agree that CNSE will make sense if it can help solve some of the significant challenges in commercializing nanotechnology. As part of Albany Nanotech’s grand plan, it must also mint scientists and engineers who will build companies that will put down roots in the region and serve as a talent pool to attract existing firms.


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