Incubator-Arsenal

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This article by Barbara Fox was prepared for the October 16, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Now Public: Lucent’s Nano Lab

Opening the doors of its laboratory to the public could

be what saves Lucent’s research leadership. Even before last week’s

announcement of a 10,000-employee layoff, Lucent did not have the

critical mass of work needed to use its expensive lab in Murray Hill.

At the instigation of scientists from Lucent and the New Jersey Institute

of Technology, the state and federal government chipped in $2 million

each to preserve the existing laboratory and allow it to be used by

other companies on a time share basis. It will be administered by

the New Jersey Nanotechnology Consortium (NJNC).

Nanotechnology is where the automobile was at the turn of the century,

says Don Sebastian, vice president of R & D for NJIT. "Autos were

being made in `ones-ies’ at low yields. Henry Ford didn’t invent the

auto, but by perfecting the manufacturing he could make it at a price

accessible to the common man. But when you talk about doing things

at molecular dimension, you can’t do it in a garage," says Sebastian.

"It costs millions for equipment, never mind the sterile environment

and the cost of infrastructure."

Just $4 million to open the doors of a $150 million lab is a big bargain,

considering that New York is collaborating with IBM to spend $100

million to create a new nanolaboratory that experts say will still

not be as good as Lucent’s. Yet $4 million does not guarantee the

lab can stay open.

"What’s daunting is the raw cost of maintaining the facility,"

says Sebastian. "We would love to be able to bootstrap it without

state support, but a million here and a million there barely makes

a dent in operating cost. This is a high risk/high reward venture.

It will take a lot of effort, many dues paying companies, and continuing

state support for the consortium to be self sustaining. Our biggest

exposure and our biggest risk is in the first year or two."

Built in 1975, the facility has more than 20,000 square feet of class

100 clean rooms and the expert staff to operate it, plus the leading

optical Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS) fabrication facility

in the world. (MEMS represents the intermediate size between microscopic

scale and nano scale.)

Two of Lucent’s devices are very rare indeed. Only Japan currently

has another research version of a 193 mm stepper, which can do exceptionally

fine nanometer-level resolution on wafers. And Stanford has the only

other Ebeam facility, which does molecular Ebeam epitaxy, creating

lines atom by atom.

NJNC is a way to link industry to the single curious investigator,

"to create a hybrid context for interface that has been pushed

out of industry," says Sebastian. The son of a market researcher,

Sebastian majored in chemical engineering at the Stevens Institute

of Technology, Class of 1974, and has a PhD from Stevens.

"As industry’s focus on development has shortened down to next

product (6 months or a year), no one is focusing 10 years out. There

needs to be a pipeline from concept to commercialization," says

Sebastian. "We need to figure out how to foster the next generation

beyond this."

Annual operating costs could be $10 million, including heat, light,

air handling, and two dozen equipment operators. "As this thing

rolls forward," says Sebastian, "one-third would come from membership

fees, one-third from grants and contract work, and one-third from

commercial property revenues and usage fees. Our long term ambition

is to get off government grants; we regard them as venture capital."

— Barbara Fox

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Incubator-Arsenal

To encourage what is hopefully termed "NanoValley

New Jersey," $5 million from the federal government is being funneled

through Picatinny Arsenal to establish a high tech industrial park

and incubator. Located in Dover about 90 minutes north of Princeton,

the arsenal is charged with identifying technology that might have

dual uses in the commercial and military environments. Particularly

suitable are companies doing materials research that might have an

explosive reaction, because since the Revolutionary War the arsenal

has been set up to handle reactions safely.

"We can help entrepreneurs take an idea — a `pixie dust’ of

nano material — and turn it into a product that will be attractive

to investors," says Mark Mezger, the nanotechnologies program

coordinator (mmezger@pica.army.mil). He went to SUNY Buffalo,

Class of 1981, and has masters in material science from Rutgers and

in management and technology from Wharton. "If we need to transition

the technology in time of war we are a knowledge archive with hands-on

experience."

Mezger encourages the study of engineering properties of nanoscale

powder metals. Nanoscale ingredients have been added to suntan lotions

for their optical and reflective properties, and the paint industries

is looking at the reflective properties of nanoparticle aluminum,

but Mezger is looking for wider applications, such as optically transparent

copper in nano quantities.


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