GREENSBORO, NC, April 13, 2010 — North Carolina’s Piedmont Triad region located in the north-central part of the state is making a name for itself in nanotechnology. The area, consisting of the surrounding cities of Greensboro, Winston-Salem and High Point, has long been known as a transportation and manufacturing hub, but has since become instrumental in North Carolina’s recently announced rank as the No. 8 state in the nation for nanotechnology activity.
The Triad also hosted the 2010 NC Nanotechnology Commercialization Conference, which wrapped up in Greensboro on April 1. The two-day conference focused on the budding collaborations between the state’s universities and private industries. This synergy between industry and academia is not only producing a sprinkle of spin-off companies, but is also turning out the trained workforce needed to fill those nanotech-related jobs in the Triad and beyond.
Conference sessions included topics such as the future of nanotechnology, engaging the media for visibility, as well as discussions about safety concerns and risks of nanotechnology on the environment. However, most sessions came back to the emerging theme of ‘innovation, partnerships and commercialization.’ The hot topic indeed was partnering academia with industry to bring technology from the labs to the marketplace.
The conference opened with a welcome from John Hardin, from the NC Board of Science and Technology; Ed Kitchen, board chair of the Gateway University Research Park; and James Ryan, founding dean of Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering (JSNN).
Ryan displayed an artist’s rendering of the 100,000-square-foot research and education center (JSNN) for graduate scientists and engineers that recently broke ground at Greensboro’s Gateway University Research Park. Funded by a $58 million state grant, the school will be shared by the University of North Carolina Greensboro and North Carolina A&T State University. Slated for completion in 2012, the joint school will train students to conduct basic and applied research in nanotechnologies using advanced equipment and will offer master’s degrees and doctorates.
An artists rendering of the JSNN. Image courtesy of James Ryan, founding dean of the JSNN.
“My vision for the JSNN is to be a leader in innovation – to invent the future in nanobiology, nanometrology, nanomaterials and bioelectronics,” said Ryan. “UNCG and A&T came together to bring more focus to the industry. The emphasis is towards enablement of these technologies”
Paul Clayson, CEO of nCoat (high performance coatings) weighed the pros and cons of academia and industry collaborations in a conference session called, “Emerging Technologies: From Lab to Marketplace.” Clayson explained that from a corporate perspective, R&D centers are often perceived as cost centers that have the potential of producing legal battles (think licensing and intellectual property).
“On the other hand R&D centers have a better focus on perfecting a technology, while corporations work on deadline and focus on revenue,” Clayson said, adding that academic institutions do well what companies do poorly because of time constraints.
David Carroll and Paul Clayson address attendees at the session titled, "Emerging Technologies: From Lab to Marketplace. (Image: Krista Zanolli, Photonics Media)
From a corporate perspective, Clayson went on to make the case for academic partner ships by saying that corporations can provide field testing for academic innovations, can use political contacts to help obtain government grants and can offer a business-minded perspective on technology transfer.
In the same session, Dr. David Carroll, director of the Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, spoke about several success stories concerning spin-off companies emerging from academic centers, in particular, three of his own.
From his previous center at Clemson University, Carroll founded Tetramer Technolgies, a faculty-driven start-up company dealing in photonics technologies. From the Wake Forest center he has successfully spun-off PureLux, a company focused on commercializing next generation light sources that he says are 10 times more efficient than incandescents and 3 times more efficient than fluorescents.
Carroll is also responsible for FiberCell, a company that has designed a unique 3-D fiber-based solar cell that is said to gather twice the efficiency of traditional solar cells. (See: Fiber-Based Solar Cells Earn Patent)
The possibilities surrounding these spin-off companies and the collaborations between the region’s academic institutions and businesses seemed resonate with the roughly 250 attendees. The tone of the sessions seemed to feed the hope that the area’s growth in nanotechnology will attract educated professionals, entrepreneurs and investors to North Carolina’s Piedmont Triad region.
Next year’s North Carolina Nanotechnology Commercialization Conference will be held in Charlotte.
For more information, visit: www.ncscitech.com/ncncc
Krista D. Zanolli
- The use of atoms, molecules and molecular-scale structures to enhance existing technology and develop new materials and devices. The goal of this technology is to manipulate atomic and molecular particles to create devices that are thousands of times smaller and faster than those of the current microtechnologies.
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