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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
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
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org). 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
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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