A cutting-edge U.S. government research center has launched a program to educate the next generation of scientists and experts in the field of nanotechnology. The Sandia National Laboratories
, Albuquerque, New Mexico, in partnership with several universities and private sector firms, has combined resources and expertise to found an institution that will enable students to participate in and contribute to advanced research projects.
The idea behind the National Institute for Nano-Engineering (NINE) originated during a 2006 Sandia summit that brought together experts from industry, government and academia to discuss methods to boost U.S. competitiveness. A major influence behind the event was a series of reports on declining national competitiveness and innovation in advanced science and technology in a global marketplace, the most notable being “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” from the U.S. National Academies, explains Justine Johannes, a senior manager in Sandia’s Minerals Synthesis and Processing Department.
The consensus from the meeting was that government, industry and academic laboratories must create strong partnerships to foster the next generation of innovators. An important part of the discussion focused on attracting potential scientists, providing interesting and challenging problems for them to solve and creating a professional calling for them. The meeting also addressed launching a federal government effort focused on developing and accelerating innovation to maintain national competitiveness.
NINE program manager Regan Stinnett notes that many scientists working in the field today were inspired by NASA’s moon missions in the 1960s and early 1970s. “We don’t have anything that’s comparable today to catch the imagination of kids across the country. But we believe the area of nanotechnology has the potential to be exciting across a wide spectrum of applications,” he says.
NINE currently has several goals, the first being to reach students and excite them about nanotechnology. Another objective is to conduct research with student participation to create the next generation of innovations in the field. “It’s about education as well as the discoveries that will come out of the research,” explains Johannes.
The program has two educational segments. The first is a multidisciplinary team of researchers from university, industry and other government laboratories. The second is a curriculum-based educational component led by the universities that injects innovation into the course work and provides research and career development activities not found in traditional academics.
The institute does not have its own facility. It is designed on a hub and spoke model, with the hub at Sandia and the partner organizations contributing their facilities. Johannes predicts that as the institute becomes more established, a dedicated brick and mortar facility will become desirable. But in its early stages, NINE will leverage the available facilities at Sandia. She notes that the institute conducted its first summer courses this year.
The institute is currently funding several research programs with Sandia internal investment money. These projects fall into three categories: nanoelectronics and information processing, nanomanufacturing and nanoengineering for energy applications. Johannes notes that there are several projects under each of these categories and that these efforts involve Sandia personnel, students, university professors and industry participants.
NINE is open to graduate and undergraduate students, and both can participate in the summer program and technical projects. Johannes notes that the mix of graduates and undergraduates differs from program to program, but the goal is to have both levels of students participating in all of the projects.
Johannes hopes that in the near future NINE will compete to be an Energy Department Discovery Science and Engineering Innovation Institute. She adds that this would officially stand it up as a discovery institute, a position that would allow NINE the funds to create other opportunities.The full version of this article is published in the December 2007 issue of SIGNAL Magazine, in the mail to AFCEA members and subscribers December 3, 2007. For information about purchasing this issue, joining AFCEA or subscribing to SIGNAL, contact AFCEA Member Services.