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Tsongas and Meehan Tout Nanotech as Job Generator

By From Lowell Sun

By John Collins,

LOWELL -- What, exactly, is a "Bistable Nanoswitch Single Wall Nanotube Memory Device"?

While neither the keynote speaker of the third annual Nanomanufacturing Summit, U.S Rep. Niki Tsongas, nor Chancellor Marty Meehan were ready to give a detailed answer to that question, both dignitaries did come to Thursday's event at the University of Massachusetts Lowell prepared to sing the praises of one of only four nanomanufacturing research centers in the country.

"I support the center because it is truly a national asset with important implications for the district's competitiveness," Tsongas told an audience of about 150 faculty members, students, business and military representatives. "I am currently supporting a request for additional funding in fiscal year 2010 for nano research (for the university). If approved, these funds will support efforts focused on making our soldiers safer, and eliminating threats to our safety here at home because of biological and chemical warfare."

Tsongas said she returned from her recent visit to Iraq and Afghanistan more convinced than ever that the innovations created at the nanomanufacturing center at UMass Lowell are essential to ensure that our troops "have the tools to be safe and to get the job done."

Besides making our troops safer and more efficient in the field, Tsongas said she views the nanotechnology research center as a key to emerging from the current economic crisis.

"All we have to do is think of the university's historic dominance in plastics engineering and the textile industry -- technologies developed years ago that still spark new innovation and important business opportunities," she said. "What you are doing today will play itself out for decades to come."

After her address, Tsongas took a walk around the Suffolk Conference Center on the second floor of the Wannalancit Mills building to study the text and graphics that university researchers had posted on about three dozen billboards, summarizing the various types of nanomanufacturing research that is being done at UMass Lowell. Found among the displays was information about a new type of "lead-free solder," the development of "low cost, non-toxic anti-bacterial nanoparticles" to combat infectious diseases, and the before-mentioned Bistable Nanoswitch SWNT Memory Device, which was described as "a more powerful and economical memory storage device."

Representatives of about 50 high-tech companies attended the summit, including BAE Systems, Teradyne, Corning, BASF, Motorola, Kodak, Textron, Raytheon, IBM, Lockheed Martin and Intel.

Meehan, who also addressed the Nano Summit audience, said he believes the product innovations and high technology being developed within UMass Lowell's National Science Foundation Center for High-Rate Manufacturing (a collaborative partnership with Northeastern University and the University of New Hampshire) "are keys to the greater Lowell region's economic growth."

Also in his speech, Meehan referred with apparent renewed optimism to the proposed construction of a $90 million science and technology center on campus that UMass Lowell officials put on hold last month due to concerns about insufficient federal stimulus package funding.

"Hopefully soon we will have an emerging technologies and innovation center to house nano- and biomanufacturing research and other leading-edge work in a green, clean facility," Meehan said.