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UMass Lowell Nanotech Center receives $5M boost

By Used with permission from the Lowell Sun Online.

Sun Staff

Tuesday, December 21, 2004 - LOWELL From small things, big things one day come.

At least, that's what the folks at the University of Massachusetts Lowell's Nanomanufacturing Center are hoping. They got a $5 million lift yesterday, thanks to a matching-fund award from the John Adams Innovation Institute, a division of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative.

Nanotechnology, the study and technology of materials one billionth the size of a meter, is hot stuff these days, and the UMass Lowell center will focus on delivering it to practical use, especially in the electronics and biomedical fields.

Or, "What are the barriers to manufacturing on a nano scale?" as Julie Chen, the center's director put it.

"If you had to have one project to start off with, it'd be hard to find a better one than this" said Pat Larkin, director of Massachusetts Technology Collaborative and assistant director of the Adams Institute. "It has so many of the critical elements we look for. A tremendous research team, tremendous backing and support from the university."

And nano-scale science and engineering could also lead to a boom in area jobs, says state Sen. Steve Panagiotakos.

"Nano-applications cross all sectors of manufacturing," he said. "In 20 to 30 years, just about everything will have some nano-application in it."

He hopes the center's Lowell location could eventually lead to a "highly skilled" job market.

The university is planning to construct a $23 million nanotechnology center within the 13-acre Lawrence Mills complex, at the corner of Aiken and Perkins streets. That building is "probably at least three years down the road," says Chen. In the meantime, they'll renovate some university facilities.

"It's not like we can wait on something like this," she said.

Chen said many colleges and universities are studying nanotechnology, but UMass Lowell has carved out its niche in studying how technologies can be manufactured.

She said the $5 million announced yesterday will go toward hiring someone to interact with the manufacturing industry, purchase equipment, fund student projects, and for outreach to places like the Museum of Science in Boston, "an educational effort to get people excited about nanomanufacturing. We hope it will put students of the future in the pipeline."

She envisions the center as a place where industry and scientists "come to try out their ideas, test their products and study the uses of nanotechnology in manufacturing. ... This goes to the core of what we're trying to do."

In September, UMass Lowell, Northeastern University and the University of New Hampshire shared a $12.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation to study the manufacture of nanotechnology applications.

According to the National Science Foundation, the global market for nano-engineered materials could be worth $1 trillion and employ more than 2 million people by 2015.

David Perry's e-mail address is .