RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Thinking small is big business in North Carolina.
When UNC’s Joe DeSimone and his team recently announced they had been awarded yet another nanotechnology patent we had one more indication that North Carolina has become a significant cluster of activity in the Nanotechnology sector. At last count North Carolina has well over 100 nanotechnology focused companies including Cree, Qorvo, Phononics, Liquidia, and hundreds of others that leverage nano in their products. So … you could say that nano is a big industry in our State that’s focused on really small things!
Yes, even though the nanometer is small (10-9 meters), nanotechnology is big in North Carolina. As advances in Nanotechnology continue, applications developed and commercialized by Nanotechnologists positively impact every aspect of our lives touched by the Life and Material Sciences. Nanomaterials are being used to diagnose and treat cancer, new and advanced nanostructures are advancing the efficiency of solar cells, batteries, and computers, and the tools of nanotechnology are allowing us to see and experience our surroundings not possible until recently.
Meet RTNN: Research Triangle Nanotechnology Network
Driving the growth of Nanotechnology advances across all industries is our Region’s Research Triangle Nanotechnology Network (RTNN). This network includes researchers and resources from Duke University, UNC Chapel Hill, and NC State and is one of 16 sites created in 2015 by the National Science Foundation through the formation of the National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure (NNCI). Each site within the Network (which includes 27 research institutions across the US) participated in a national competition that evaluated research resources and capabilities in each institution.
Every NNCI site is provides nanofabrication and characterization facilities, technical staff, and faculty experts to its surrounding communities and other individuals and entities that can benefit by easily accessing and leveraging these assets. RTNN’s resources include nine core nanotechnology fabrication and characterization facilities with over 200 highly sophisticated instruments and a large technical staff of experts from a diverse set of scientific specialties.
The network specifically reaches out to those who have not traditionally used these highly sophisticated tools and facilities, from students to other colleges, universities, and companies that could learn and benefit, to generating knowledge, facilitating technology transfer, and creating jobs.
The Network has also developed a free online course open to anyone interested in learning about the tools and techniques of nanotechnology. “Nanotechnology, A Maker’s Course”, is available on Coursera and includes eight modules, each module focused on a different fabrication or characterization technique such as vapor deposition or scanning electron microscopy (SEM).
Another RTNN initiative, The Kickstarter Program supports use of the facilities by new users. To participate, applicants submit a short proposal describing the project, how the facilities will be used, and their financial need. Since its inception the Kickstarter Program has supported over 40 projects helping small companies such as Smart Material Solutions, college students from Haverford College, and high school students from the North Carolina School of Science and Math.
The RAIN network
RTNN is also partnered with the Remotely Accessible Instruments for Nanotechnology (RAIN) network to extend its reach. The RAIN network provides remote capabilities to numerous instruments housed in universities across the country. The RTNN is also bringing these tools and instruments into local classrooms with the help of a portable, desktop Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM). This high powered microscope allows students to see and experience their the world in new and exciting ways.
Other activities of the RTNN include technical workshops, short courses, scientific demonstrations, and facility tours. Researchers recently created flexible films to make non-volatile memory devices that are wearable and resilient, ideal for applications ranging from consumer textiles to defense and space applications, created a flexible sensor by measuring refracted light from the sample. The sensor is comprised of thin film photodetectors (PDs) bonded to a flexible polymer substrate. They are creating self-powered devices to help people monitor their health and understand how the surrounding environment affects it.
One of the most exciting happenings at the RTNN is the recent acquisition of the new Thermo Scientific™ Krios™ G3i Cryo Transmission Electron Microscope (Cryo-TEM). This remarkable microscope, one of only a few in the country, enables life science researchers to unravel life at the molecular level—easier, faster, and more reliably than ever before.
Editor’s note: Joe Magno is executive director of NC COIN (NC Center of Innovation Network)