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Prof. Julie Chen of the Department of Mechanical Engineering was one of five expert panelists at a recent U.S. House hearing calling for continued federal support for university-industry partnerships in nanomanufacturing. Chen, who is co-director (with Profs. Carol Barry and Joey Mead) of UML’s Nanomanufacturing Center, appeared before the Committee on Science and Technology’s Research and Science Education Subcommittee to testify on the “Transfer of National Nanotechnology Initiative Research Outcomes for Commercial and Public Benefit.”
“I think my testimony went well,” says Chen. “The members of the subcommittee were very receptive to the points made by the entire panel. They were basically looking for input and suggestions for what they could do to help the U.S. bolster its global leadership and competitiveness in this area.”
The House subcommittee, which is in the process of reauthorizing the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), wanted to examine how effectively NNI-supported research is being translated into commercial products and processes for the public good. Its members questioned Chen and the other panelists ߝ two CEOs and two research institute directors ߝ on the current barriers that exist to the commercialization of nanotechnology and asked for their ideas on ways in which the NNI can enhance technology transfer and commercialization. The NNI, which was enacted in 2003, coordinates the nanotechnology R&D activities of 26 federal agencies. Its total estimated budget for FY2008 is $1.49 billion.
“While the bulk of the federal funding for R&D must remain at the basic research level to ensure future discoveries and emerging technologies,” Chen told the subcommittee, “some federal funding is needed to provide incentives for the partnerships that are needed ߝ university-industry partnerships to accelerate technology demonstration efforts, to develop and expand the accessibility of new tools and processing equipment, and to address concomitant issues such as environmental, health, safety, and intellectual property.” (Read the full text of her testimony.)
This was Chen’s first time testifying before a Congressional body. “I had gone to a hearing once before, when I was in D.C. at the National Science Foundation,” she recalls, “but it’s definitely different being on the panel rather than just being a spectator. It was a great experience.”
Chen says the Q&A period after each of the panelists had made their statements was also interesting. “It was not the type of testimony you tend to see on TV, with Congressional reps grilling Condoleezza Rice or Roger Clemens; it was more of an open discussion,” she says. “The subcommittee Chair recommended that we send ideas and suggestions about the issue to them if we come up with more thoughts after the discussion.”
A resident of Wilmington, Chen recently was named one of Greater Lowell’s most fascinating people of 2007.