New Network to Meet Research Triangle’s Nanotechnology Needs

Duke part of National Science Foundation-funded network to help businesses, educators pursue nanotechnology innovation

The Research Triangle of North Carolina is home to some of the most highly ranked educational institutions in the country in science and technology.  These universities have helped to create a technology ecosystem that has benefited the dynamic local tech startup climate, large established technology companies, one of the largest community college systems in the nation and the local K-12 educational system.

Three of the region’s leading universities, NC State University, Duke University, and UNC-Chapel Hill, are expanding on this innovation ecosystem by providing unprecedented access to  nanotechnology facilities, expertise and educational opportunities to businesses and educators.

With the help of a five-year, $5.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation, NC State University, Duke University, and UNC-Chapel Hill are launching a new partnership called the Research Triangle Nanotechnology Network (RTNN). It is being funded by the National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure (NNCI), which has enabled major discoveries, innovations, and contributions to education and commerce by providing researchers from academia, small and large companies, and government with open access to university user facilities.

“The grant will fund efforts to open our doors and work more effectively with the public, from major corporations and start-ups to community colleges and K-12 educators,” says Jacob Jones, a professor of materials science and engineering at NC State and principal investigator of the grant.

The bulk of the funding will be used to hire staff who will be dedicated to reaching out to potential industry and educational partners to identify ways that RTNN can address their specific nanotechnology needs.

For example, businesses might need help using nanotechnology to develop or improve products, while educators may want to teach their students about nanotechnology in their own classrooms. Whatever the reason, RTNN can provide access to unique equipment, expertise and resources.

“This is a great win for our region,” said Nan Jokerst, the J. A. Jones Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and executive director of the Shared Materials Instrumentation Facility at Duke. “We’ve certainly proposed some innovative approaches with this program, which was important for us to win this highly competitive grant.”

Duke has a wide array of powerful tools that can help advance innovations from concept to prototype and, ultimately, through manufacturing for the marketplace.

The Shared Materials Instrumentation Facility (SMIF) is an interdisciplinary shared resource providing access to advanced materials characterization and fabrication capabilities. Among other instruments, it is home to the South’s only MicroCT scanner—which uses x-rays to create 3-D models of objects slice-by-slice—that is freely available for outside use. It also hosts a state-of-the-art cleanroom for nanotechnology research.

The Duke Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy Center provides access to high-field nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) instrumentation, training in the use of NMR methods and expert consultation on advanced NMR applications. NMR lets researchers observe the specific quantum mechanical magnetic properties of the atomic nuclei to study molecular physics, crystals, and non-crystalline materials.

On the environmental side of nanotechnology, the Center for the Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology (CEINT) is exploring the relationship between a vast array of nanomaterials—from natural, to manufactured, to those produced incidentally by human activities—and their potential environmental exposure, biological effects, and ecological impacts.

Between NC State, Duke, and UNC-Chapel Hill, the RTNN has a suite of facilities that will be enable the next generation of technology innovation to outside groups. These facilities have capacities including nanofabrication of electronics, textiles fabrication and characterization, sophisticated materials characterization, and labs that evaluate interactions between nanotechnologies and the environment.  Through the RTNN partnership, an ecosystem of both technology and educational innovation will be created and fostered, spreading throughout the Research Triangle region, to the State of North Carolina, and to the nation.

For more information or to explore the resources available in the region, visit http://mse.ncsu.edu/rtnn