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Moving Nanotechnology from Lab to Market

UMass Lowell at the Forefront of Nanomanufacturing in New England

UMass Lowell Image
From left, Provost Ahmed Abdelal, Massachusetts Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Gregory Bialecki, UMass Vice President for Economic Development Thomas Chmura, Prof. Joey Mead and Prof. Carol Barry at this year’s Destination Nano conference.

By Edwin L. Aguirre

Nanotechnology — which has been hailed as the “Next Industrial Revolution” — is maturing rapidly as more and more products move from concept to commercialization. A recent article in Scientific American predicts that by 2015, “products incorporating nanotech will contribute approximately $1 trillion to the global economy. About 2 million workers will be employed in nanotech industries, and three times that many will have supporting jobs.”

UMass Lowell has been leading the way in nanotech research and development in the region. At the center of the University’s efforts is the brand-new, $80 million state-of-the-art Emerging Technologies and Innovation Center (ETIC), which is scheduled to have its grand public opening Oct. 11.

Located on the corner of University Avenue and VFW Highway, the four-story, 84,000-square-foot research and academic building is intended to serve as the hub for cutting-edge innovation in nanotechnology, plastics engineering, biomedicine and electro-optics. Its advanced design meets critical criteria for temperature, humidity and vibration. 

In addition to wet-lab and engineering-lab spaces and a plastics-processing high bay, the ETIC will house multimillion-dollar, high-tech Class 100, Class 1000 and Class 10,000 “clean rooms.” These facilities are essential for high-level nanomanufacturing of biopharmaceuticals and semiconductors. They prevent environmental pollutants such as dust or airborne microbes from contaminating the process. And that’s especially important when dealing with materials on the nanoscale (billionths of a meter).

At the ETIC, faculty and student researchers will engage with tech companies to meet their nanomanufacturing needs and challenges as well as help improve people’s lives in the region and the world. In partnership with industry, government and academia, the ETIC is expected to foster new ideas and new science, develop new manufacturing techniques, products and instrumentation, and create new spinoffs, industries, markets and job opportunities.

“It’s rare to have such facilities," says Chancellor Marty Meehan. “The ETIC will be the most significant new research and development infrastructure investment north of Boston in decades.”

Unique Contributions to Nanomanufacturing

“UMass Lowell offers unique contributions to nanomanufacturing through its expertise in high-rate, high-yield nanomanufacturing of polymers and composites,” plastics engineering Prof. Joey Mead said during the second annual “Destination Nano” recently held on campus. The two-day conference addressed the latest advances and developments in nanotechnology and nanomanufacturing in New England and the United States.

“The University also conducts concurrent research on the environmental, health and safety issues relating to the handling, manufacture, storage and transportation of nanomaterials,” said Mead, who is co-director of the Nanomanufacturing Center of Excellence and deputy director of the National Science Foundation Center for High-rate Nanomanufacturing at UMass Lowell. 

She also noted the University’s excellent working relationship with industry for research and workforce training.

U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas, who was one of the opening keynote speakers at Destination Nano, said she has seen how nanotechnology is “saving the lives of American soldiers serving overseas.” Tsongas serves on the House Armed Services Committee, where she has a long history of working to ensure military personnel have the equipment and protection they need. 

UMass Lowell researchers are collaborating with the Army Research Laboratory to develop a suite of portable sensors for detecting cracks in soldiers’ body armor, aircraft wings and helicopter blades as well as for detecting threats from chemical and biological warfare agents.

This year’s Destination Nano featured talks and panel discussions by representatives from industry, government and academia, including UMass Lowell, UMass Amherst, MIT, Northeastern University, the Office of Naval Research, Lockheed Martin, Cabot, Nypro, Prince Lobel, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative and the City of Lowell.

For more information, visit the Destination Nano website.