By Amelia Pak-Harvey
LOWELL - One year after receiving a $4 million grant, students like Kyle Homan are already working in the high-tech Printed Electronics Research Collaborative at UMass Lowell.
It's a feat that Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito came to observe on Tuesday, watching as Homan explained how to craft an antenna from a 3-D printer that is cheaper, faster and safer to make.
"We can create the shapes we want in 3-D printed plastic, and then put the metal on it afterwards to get the performance that we would need for an antenna," said Harmon, a Ph.D. student in computer and electronics engineering, as he stood in a printed electronics lab at the school's Saab Center.
The grant from the state-founded Massachusetts Technology Collaborative paid for equipment to fill the center with opportunities for students and companies.
It is matched with another $12 million in industry support through a 2012 jobs bill.
The center is just the kind of project that the Baker-Polito administration would like to expand, with an Opportunities for All bill that would provide an extra $25 million in investment for MassTech's Collaborative Research and Development Matching Grant Program.
Since receiving the $4 million last January, PERC already has eight companies using the facility.
And while the center's focus is mostly on Department of Defense material, there are other industries - especially small companies - that will benefit from the center, said PERC Director Craig Armiento.
"Being part of the PERC team, you automatically are partners for going after federal money," he said.
"And a lot of companies ... look at us as a way to get access to the next generation of engineers."
In another lab, Polito listened to undergraduate seniors explain their capstone project sponsored by Raytheon.
Senior James Benedict explained how the engineering field is becoming much more interdisciplinary.
"That's kind of what we're trying to create here, and I think that's where the future of engineering is going to be, interdisciplinary," he said.
He also said Massachusetts is a great place to work.
"We want to make it a great place for you to live and grow your roots and your families some day," Polito said.
Across the city, Polito also visited the newly rehabilitated building at 24 Merrimack St., an old department store building built in 1906 now transformed into apartments.
The building is already attracting some young professionals, with one-bedroom apartments going for $1,300 a month and two bedrooms ranging from $1,650 to $1,830.
But rehabilitating the old building into hip new apartments would not have been possible without $900,000 in tax credits from the state's Housing Development Incentive Program, said owner and developer Tom Monahan.
The Opportunities for All bill would also expand that program, allowing new construction to qualify for tax credits and expanding those credits from 10 percent of eligible expenditures to 25 percent.
The program gives credits to encourage housing development in gateway cities like Lowell. The building already has 26 of 47 units rented.
"One of the big issues that we ran into is lighting for the bedrooms, because you only have so much," said Monahan, standing before a bedroom window built into the middle of a wall of one second-floor apartment. "So this is to code, you have to have so much natural light for each bedroom."
Polito told Monahan that he took a chance, and noted that the apartments are bringing a density of people and a younger workforce downtown.
"One of the biggest challenges our administration and others have had as well is finding ways to incentivize developers like you to come into places like Lowell, and invest your dollars and your time and your talent and energy to bring this kind of housing to neighborhoods like this," Polito said to Monahan. "This works. I hope to see more of your talent in other gateway cities, including here in Lowell."