April 20, 2005 — Oregon’s nanotechnology initiative appears to be holding steady even if one of its leading industrial supporters has faced a bumpy start this year. Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute (ONAMI), one of the state’s signature research centers, is on the docket for more state and federal funding, and continues to win the support of its business and political leaders.
Gov. Ted Kulongoski encourages the state to create a climate for innovation, including scientific research. He advocates joint efforts between universities, federal labs and industry, hoping to speed transfer of technology to business applications.
The state also has an advocate in Washington, D.C. U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, introduced a bill that led to the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act. The act, signed in late 2003, authorized nearly $3.7 billion for nanotechnology over fours years.
One of Kulongoski’s favorite projects is ONAMI, based in Corvallis, which the governor cited as an example of “collaborative partnerships that work.” ONAMI’s function is to put a roof over research currently going on at Oregon State University, University of Oregon and Portland State University, as well as projects undertaken by private industry. The partnership includes Battelle, which manages Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Richland, Wash.
“There is $7 million for ONAMI in the governor’s budget, and no matching is required,” said Robert D. “Skip” Rung, executive director of ONAMI. The state Legislature is currently considering that request in the 2005-2007 biennium budget.
Other state government funds so far have gone primarily to construction and engineering education. The governor’s recommended budget for the coming two years also asks for $21.7 million to engineering education and research, with the lion’s share going to OSU, and the rest to seven other universities.
Some of those dollars are expected to stick to micro and nanotechnology projects as well, but activation of ONAMI has been slower than expected and rumored cutbacks at Hewlett-Packard Co, the institute’s chief private sector sponsor, have created some uncertainty.
HP’s printer division in Corvallis has contributed a large part of one of the buildings on its local campus at no charge to the institute. The division may be a target for layoffs this year, with estimates ranging from 5 percent to 20 percent of HP’s 4,300 workforce. Reports of possible cuts overlapped with the announcement in early February that HP’s chief executive, Carleton Fiorina, had abruptly stepped down.
Rung and HP spokesman Brigida Bergkamp downplayed the rumors. “I have no non-public information on what HP might do. But it will not have any effect on ONAMI,” Rung said in an e-mail. He added that HP is not cutting back on its support of the institute.
Bergkamp said the company collaborates with ONAMI on research and development projects, but they are two separate, independent entities. “Nanotech is a vibrant part of HP’s business,” she said. “We’re committed to a presence in Corvallis. We will continue to adjust our workforce according to business and customer needs and to reflect patterns in the marketplace, and this includes hiring.”
HP is not ONAMI’s sole industrial partner. Hillsboro, Ore.-based FEI Co. and Portland-based Electro Scientific Industries have worked to support ONAMI. FEI (Nasdaq: FEIC) makes tools for nanotechnology researchers and manufacturers. ESI (Nasdaq:ESIO) specializes in production laser systems for microengineering applications.
Oregon is wooing additional business partners as well. At a 2004 meeting of leaders in venture capital and engineering firms, Rung joined three executives on a panel about fostering innovation and technology projects in Oregon. Michael Baker, chief executive at Home Dialysis Plus, and Chuck May, senior director of operations at LSI Logic, both of Portland, and Thomas Rueckes, chief scientific officer at Nantero Inc. of Boston, discussed how to translate micro and nano research into companies and jobs.
In another example of collaboration, the Oregon Business Plan, a group of high-tech CEOs and state government finance officials, tries to spur economic development in the state, incorporating the governor’s goals to support signature research centers and commercialize research.
To that end, they are attempting to raise $10 million in state and private funding to keep ONAMI going. That sum should support basic operations and attract at least $60 million to $80 million in federal research project grants.
They hope state spending will be matched by federal and private funds. In 2004, nearly $20 million worth of federal research and development products were awarded to the institute.
The group also wants to identify markets for at least two technology-based industry clusters that can convert university research into new products and businesses.
Meanwhile, ONAMI recently brought in Dennis Stiles, PNNL’s program manager in Corvallis, and John Carruthers, PSU physics professor, as new co-directors of the institute. They join current directors from University of Oregon and Oregon State University.
Carruthers was previously director of components research at Intel Corp. and will head a new effort in nanoscale metrology in downtown Portland, where an advanced transmission electron microscope and nanotube and nanowire fabrication facilities already exist. Stiles will be the first of up to 20 PNNL staff in Corvallis at OSU’s Microproducts Breakthrough Institute, an ONAMI partner located on the OSU campus.