Down to Business: NanoTech idea created a decade ago

Here’s another 10-year anniversary that merits note in 2011: It was a decade ago, in then-Gov. Georg

Here’s another 10-year anniversary that merits note in 2011: It was a decade ago, in then-Gov. George Pataki’s State of the State address, that New York’s university-based centers of excellence were unveiled, including one in nanoelectronics at the University at Albany.

From that seed grew today’s $7.5 billion Albany NanoTech complex on Fuller Road, where cutting-edge research and development — as well as academic instruction — take place in the emerging fields of nanoscience, nanoengineering, nanobioscience and nanoeconomics. The complex covers 800,000 square feet in four buildings and includes 85,000 square feet of sophisticated “clean rooms” for a 300-millimeter wafer computer-chip prototyping and demonstration line — space that is unique among universities worldwide.

Some 2,500 scientists, researchers, engineers and technicians now work at the complex, where the annual payroll is $1 billion and the average pay is $81,000 a year.

The site subscribes to an unconventional philosophy that mixes together government, industry and university interests to advance the latest research along with the economy. An estimated 250 companies, including big names such as IBM, Applied Materials and Tokyo Electron, are represented there, working together and apart on innovations that will be market standards one day. (GlobalFoundries, which is building a $4.6 billion computer-chip manufacturing plant in Malta, also is at the complex, and cited Albany NanoTech as one reason for locating its factory in the Capital Region.)

The complex also houses UAlbany’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, which was created in 2004 with a graduate program before undergraduate study was added last year. Enrollment for the fall semester at the college stands at 210; alumni number 107, including 40 with doctoral degrees.

From basic research in nanotechnology — put simply, an ability to manipulate matter on the molecular level — work at Albany NanoTech has expanded into areas where that know-how now can be applied, including energy, lighting and health and information technology. Last year, for instance, the NanoCollege partnered with the U.S. division of a company in India to create a pilot production facility in Canandaigua for lighting panels that use organic light-emitting diodes.

But Alain Kaloyeros, a professor of nanoscience who is senior vice president and CEO at the NanoCollege, lamented this week that there is “no Switzerland” for the solar industry — a place where allegiances are neutral, innovation is rampant and capital is plentiful — similar to the collaborative environment for the semiconductor industry that was created at Albany NanoTech.

Already, a part of the NanoCollege, the Energy and Environmental Technology Applications Center, works with government and industry on renewable energy issues. And earlier this year, the college was awarded $57.5 million by the U.S. Department of Energy to help create a solar manufacturing consortium through which the center, known as E2TAC, will bring together researchers to push the development and commercialization of next-generation photovoltaic systems.

It’s likely that work will occur in new space under construction across Washington Avenue Extension from the Albany NanoTech complex. By 2015, Kaloyeros said, the expansion will boost employment to 3,500, annual payroll to $2.25 billion and total square footage to 1.25 million.

Is this the seed of a new tech hub for the region that will develop a deep infrastructure for solar and other renewables? Let’s mark the date and check back a decade from now to see what has resulted.

Marlene Kennedy, a longtime business editor in the Capital Region, can be reached by email at [email protected]

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