FOR RELEASE: Tuesday, January 15, 2008
University to receive $4 million nanotechnology grant from the state
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Gov. Mike Beebe announced today that nanotechnology researchers at the University of Arkansas will receive a $4 million grant from the state’s General Improvement Fund. The money will benefit research and facilities in the College of Engineering and the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences.
“This is cutting-edge research with strong potential for short-term and long-term dividends in economic development,” Beebe said. “The world is watching these Arkansas scientists, and this research can lead to high-quality, knowledge-based jobs for Arkansans.”
The governor made the announcement this afternoon at the university’s Arkansas Research and Technology Park, the site of several nanotechnology laboratories. Following the announcement, Beebe and Chancellor John A. White toured some of the laboratories.
During its most recent legislative session, the Arkansas General Assembly appropriated $20 million for higher education projects. The University of Arkansas grant for nanotechnology research is part of that appropriation.
“As many people know, the University of Arkansas has emerged as a national center of excellence in nanoscience and nanotechnology research,” White said. “This generous grant acknowledges the many and profound achievements of our engineers and scientists who have looked far beyond the boundaries of their disciplines and made great strides toward improving and developing tools that will improve our lives.”
Over the past decade, University of Arkansas researchers have been awarded more than $23 million from sponsors such as the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to pursue nanoscience and nanotechnology projects. Currently, more than 100 faculty members, graduate and undergraduate students are involved in projects that will lead to important advancements in computer technology, health care, business, industry and materials manufacturing.
“Investments in faculty and facilities in nanoscience and technology are key to educating science and engineering students who are prepared for the many challenges our society will continue to face in the next several decades,” said Ashok Saxena, dean of the College of Engineering. “This investment by the state will play a key role in incubating new technology-based businesses in Arkansas and will go a long way toward attracting more federal research funds.”
The university’s concentration of expertise has spawned many research centers. In 2000, physics researchers at the university, along with researchers at the University of Oklahoma, were awarded $4.5 million from the National Science Foundation to establish one of four national centers dedicated to materials research in science and engineering. Directed by Greg Salamo, a distinguished professor in physics and the Joe N. Basore Professor in Nanotechnology and Innovation, the UA-OU Center for Semiconductor Physics in Nanostructures has focused on polymers and biomolecular, electronic and superconducting materials to help create faster, more powerful and more stable electronic devices that take up less space and require less power to operate. In 2005, the National Science Foundation renewed funding for the center with a six-year, $7.8 million grant.
In 2004, nanotechnology research at the university received a major boost when the College of Engineering announced the addition of Vijay and Vasundara “Vasu” Varadan, internationally renowned researchers whose work continues to improve the quality of human life. Vijay Varadan has developed biosensors to treat neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease. His research also focuses on potential applications to control blood glucose levels and to treat Alzheimer’s disease and epilepsy. Vasu Varadan’s research concentrates on ambulatory medical sensors as well as wireless microsensors for monitoring patients at home and in hospitals, thus providing better data to doctors and reducing health care costs.
In the past two years, dozens of researchers – research professors, post-doctoral researchers, graduate students and undergraduate students – have come to the university to study in one of the Varadans’ many laboratories. Since his arrival, Vijay Varadan created the Center for Nano-, Bio- and Info-Technology Sensors and Systems, which recently received part of a $9 million grant to the Arkansas Science & Technology Authority from the National Science Foundation.
Nanotechnology research at the university has also led to the creation of several local companies, most notably Nanomaterials and Nanofabrication Labs (NN-Labs) and NanoMech. Xiaogang Peng, the Scharlau Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, started NN-Labs in 2002 after he developed a series of powerful methods for synthesizing high-quality nanocrystals in solution. Today, the company employs 13 people and has received more than $4 million in grants from both the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.
Ajay Malshe, a professor of mechanical engineering and the Twenty-First Century Professor of Materials, Manufacturing and Integrated Systems, started NanoMech after he and researchers in his laboratory developed nanoparticle-based coatings and coating-deposition systems with unique properties such as extreme wear resistance, corrosion resistance and bio-compatibility. The coatings are important for military and industrial products and for medical implants. Based at the Arkansas Research and Technology Park, NanoMech has 20 full- and part-time employees.
In August, Robert Cresanti, the U.S. under secretary of commerce for technology, presented both companies with Recognition of Excellence in Innovation certificates.
In addition to these accomplishments, UA researchers have made cutting-edge discoveries in nanoscience and nanotechnology. Recently, Science magazine, a premier scientific journal, chose findings by Jacques Chakhalian, assistant professor of physics, as one of the top 10 breakthroughs of the 2007. Chakhalian and his colleagues found a novel way to “look” at atomic orbitals in complex oxides and demonstrated for the first time that these orbitals change substantially when interacting at the interface of a ferromagnet and a high-temperature superconductor. The finding opens up a new way of designing nanoscale superconducting materials and fundamentally changes scientific convention.
Because the University of Arkansas has become a national center of excellence in nanoscience and nanotechnology research, many graduates have secured jobs at other universities and companies such as Texas Instruments, Intel, Entergy, Northrop-Grumman and others. Graduates also work at local companies such as NN-Labs and Space Photonics Inc.