UMass Lowell urging lawmakers to adopt emerging technology

08/03/2007
By Used with permission from the Lowell Sun Online.

By JENNIFER FENN
Sun Statehouse Bureau

BOSTON -- University of Massachusetts Lowell researchers will be at the Statehouse today hoping to convince lawmakers to invest in the manufacturing of an emerging technology that they say is critical in order for the state to gain a competitive edge in the field.

The House Science and Technology Committee will hear from Mitchell Adams, executive director of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, UMass Lowell Chancellor Dr. William T. Hogan and UMass Lowell professors Julie Chen, Joey Mead, and Stephen McCarthy about nanotechnology and nanomanufacturing.

The meeting takes place as lawmakers are set to negotiate an economic stimulus package for the state that is expected to include matching grant funding for emerging technologies. The legislation may also include funding to help establish a research center for nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology is a term used to describe technologies at the level of atoms and molecules. Nanomanufacturing is the process of producing novel materials and devices from structures that are about one billionth of a meter in size. These miniature structures potentially could be used for a variety of high-technology applications, such as creating new medical devices, optical devices, nanoelectronics, chemical sensors and biosensors.

Nanomanufacturing, researchers say, is the key to turning research into reality, and creating much-needed manufacturing jobs. UMass Lowell has focused on this technology as a potential growth engine for the commonwealth and the region, Hogan said.

UMass Lowell is joining forces with Northeastern University and the University of New Hampshire to apply to the National Science Foundation to open a regional nanomanufacturing center. The group was one of 80 applicants last year and made the list of five finalists but lost out.

To be competitive for the grant, Hogan said the application must show that the state is willing to step up to the plate and provide matching grant funds. If money does become available through the economic stimulus package, Hogan wants to make sure some would go toward the UMass project.

"It is critical that New England captures one of these national centers,'' Hogan said. "The region that captures it will be able to form partnership with industries to produce products and create jobs.''

It's unclear how much money the state plans to invest in the matching grant fund, said Sen. Steven Panagiotakos, a Lowell Democrat, who is leading negotiations on the Senate side. However, Panagiotakos is hopeful that the UMass application will succeed this year if the state is able to provide matching funds.

"I would think they'd be in an excellent position for the next round, which means it would be a big boost for us. Research is key, but it's capturing the manufacturing process because that's where the jobs would be,'' Panagiotakos said.

Jennifer Fenn's e-mail address is jfenn@lowellsun.com