PORTLAND, Ore. Nanotechnology breakthroughs are poised to fuel rapid economic growth in the state of Oregon and beyond, according to speakers at last week's Micro Nano Breakthrough Conference here. "I believe that nanotechnology is the future of Oregon, the future of America and the future of the world economy," said Gov. Ted Kulongoski in his keynote here.
Kulongoski said that major advances in nanotechnology are vindicating Oregon's investments, including breakthroughs in "green" manufacturing, nanoscale energy systems, safer nanoscale materials and a local market in test-and-measurement tools for the nanotech industry.
To capitalize on growth in nanotechnology markets, Kulongoski is sponsoring a bill that would continue the state's $7 million funding for the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute (Onami), which sponsored the conference. The bill also proposes a two-phase program that would expand funding for startups, allocating $75,000 to seed proof-of-concept projects and up to $200,000 in product-development funding for proof-of-concept projects that are successful enough to be offered a phase-two award.
"We are building the infrastructure for nanotechnology innovation with Onami and with the many contributions that are being made here from the private sector," said Kulongoski. For instance, FEI Co. (Hillsboro), which has become Oregon's world-class test-and-measurement instrument vendor, today will reveal what it says is the world's highest-resolution scanning/transmission electron microscope.
Last year, the National Science Foundation showed its faith in Oregon-grown nanotechnology by awarding Onami the funds for all the necessary nanofabrication instruments, making Oregon one of the few spots in the world where all the tools needed for nanotechnologies are in one place. Onami now has transmission-electron microscopes, scanning-electron microscopes, an ion beam and an array of specialized devices.
In the last eight years, Onami has topped $75 million in research awards; awards for 2005 already exceed $20 million.
Pacific Northwest National Laboratories (PNNL; Richland, Wash.), which has been a partner in Onami from the beginning, has been accelerating the transfer of nanotechnology breakthroughs to Oregon industry. For instance, PNNL formed the Microproducts Breakthrough Institute with Oregon State University (OSU) in 2002. There it conducts applied research designed to transfer technology to local companies. In 2003, PNNL and OSU initiated a graduate student internship program designed to give graduates a head start with local industry through employment among Onami's partners.
"We don't say we are developing products at PNNL, but much of our work will be used to make better products," said PNNL director Len Peters. "In particular, we are developing nanotechnologies for superthin films to be used in new, thinner displays, as well as nanoparticles for medical diagnostics and for better sensors." Development is also ongoing, he said, into nanotubes for supercritical fluids, self-assem-bled monolayers for semiconductors, nanoscale photocatalytics for more efficient energy conversion as well as nanocrystals for better imaging and drug delivery.
Carl Kohrt, chief executive at Battelle the private, nonprofit organization that manages PNNL for the Department of Energy echoed Governor Kulongoski's praise of Oregon-grown nanotechnology, noting that not only is the state leading the nation is some fields of nanotechnology, but its economy is likely to grow with its participation in nanotechnology breakthroughs.