PORTLAND, Ore. In a partnership among industry, the federal government and U.S. universities, the budding National Institute for Nano-Engineering (Nine) promises to engage undergraduate and graduate students in nanotechnology projects as a way to reinvigorate the United States' global standing in engineering and science.
"We want to increase American competitiveness in nanotechnology," said Justine Johannes, senior manager in material science and engineering at Sandia National Laboratories. "We want students to [pursue] degrees in engineering or science by exciting them with compelling problems and offering them the opportunity to make real progress toward solutions."
Coinciding with the President's Aug. 9 passage of the America Competes Act, which provides funding for the establishment of Innovation Institutes to address science and engineering discovery and education, Nine promises to popularize nanotechnology and deepen students' commitments to three key themes: nanoelectronics, nanoenergy generation and nanomanufacturing.
Nine was spawned by the U.S. government and will operate under the auspices of Sandia National Labs. A memo of understanding was recently signed by a solid-gold list of participants, including Corning Inc., Exxon Mobil Corp., Goodyear Tire and Rubber, IBM Corp., Intel Corp., Lockheed Martin Corp., Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Rice University, theUniversity of California at Davis, the University of Florida, Harvard University, Harvey Mudd College, the University of Illinois, the University of New Mexico, the University of Notre Dame, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Wisconsin and Yale University.
Sandia will serve as the hub of the operation, with industry partners providing mentoring, research facilities and expertise designed to enrich the academic programs at the participating universities. Depending on the requirements of each nanoelectronic, nanoenergy or nanomanufacturing project, students will rotate among the university labs, the industrial partners' facilities and the Sandia hub.
"We want graduates to have more breadth and depth than they would likely have otherwise, so they learn how to work with partners on multidisciplinary teams" as well as accumulate both technical and business experience, said Johannes.
Nine was inspired by the National Academies report "Rising Above the Gathering Storm" which warns that the United States must promote technical education to college students or risk falling behind developing nations where the number of students pursuing an education in engineering or science is thriving.
The new effort will recruit a range of scholars, from freshman engineering students to graduate students in engineering and basic science. It will include an aggressive outreach program to teachers as well as to precollege students still undecided about their major.