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A new partnership between Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Sandia National Laboratories, and a select group of leading universities and corporations will present Rensselaer graduate students with a host of new cutting-edge internship and research experiences.
Rensselaer and the other institutions signed a memorandum of understanding in August to establish the National Institute for Nano-Engineering, or NINE. The partnership has been driven by concerns over the health of America's science and engineering education and capacity for innovation, as highlighted in the 2005 report "Rising Above the Gathering Storm" from the National Academies.
"This partnership allows Rensselaer to strengthen existing ties and forge new relationships with global technology leaders in industry, academia, and government," said Rensselaer President Shirley Ann Jackson, who was an author of the National Academies study. "NINE is a shining example of how our government can reach out to academia and industry for the purpose of energizing and educating young people in the sciences and engineering, and in helping our nation maintain its leadership role in the world economy."
"Our successful and highly visible nanotechnology center and our outstanding materials science program are the reasons that we were invited to be a member of the prestigious NINE partnership," said Alan Cramb, dean of Rensselaer's School of Engineering. "Giving our faculty members and students unfettered access to Sandia's stellar research staff and facilities will only strengthen Rensselaer's reputation as a nanotechnology leader and as one of the world's leading universities for engineering research and education."
The goal of NINE is to broaden students' education through a unique team research experience by engaging in multidisciplinary teams working on pre-competitive research in leading-edge technical areas. Breakthrough discoveries in nanoengineering are anticipated and students will gain rich technical experience and breadth by collaborating with top institutions around the country. NINE will also expose students to other key aspects of science and engineering, including business, legal, political, and social issues.
David Duquette, a professor at Rensselaer and head of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, is overseeing the school's involvement in NINE. Duquette said NINE's focus on materials science in nanotechnology plays to Rensselaer's strengths, and will lead to exciting research opportunities for students. Partner companies will share industry-level nanotechnology and materials science challenges to NINE, which in turn will recruit faculty and students from partner universities to collaborate and research the topic at Sandia.
"Our students will be expected to spend a considerable amount of time at Sandia, anywhere from three months to a year," Duquette said. "It will be an exciting program for Rensselaer."
Duquette said the program will likely grow over time and new opportunities for Rensselaer faculty and students will emerge. This summer marked the beginning of the NINE technical projects and an initial education program at Sandia, in which two Rensselaer graduate students participated. The NINE program also plans to reach out to teachers and pre-college students to raise awareness about nanotechnology and materials science engineering.
Sandia will oversee the partnership from its Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., facilities. Sandia is a multiprogram laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, a Lockheed Martin company, for the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration.
NINE could be a prototype of a national innovation hub for engineering education and innovation analogous to what is going on around the globe in other countries, Sandia said. The recently enacted America COMPETES Act supports the establishment of Innovation Institutes to address science and engineering discovery and education.
President Jackson recently applauded the passing of the America COMPETES Act as a vital step for addressing the need of the United States to sustain its national capacity for innovation. Jackson has long warned of what she has dubbed a "Quiet Crisis" in America — the threat to our nation's capacity to innovate due to reduced support for research and the looming shortage in the nation's science, technology, engineering, and mathematics workforce. The impending work force shortfall results from a record number of retirements on the horizon in these fields, and not enough students in the pipeline to fill the vacancies.
According to Jackson, if the United States is to maintain its leadership in science and technology, it will require a significant increase in the number of people choosing to pursue careers in these fields. She has urged a national focus on energy research as a focal point to excite and encourage greater new interest and innovation. Jackson said addressing the world's energy needs in an environmentally sustainable way is the central challenge of our time, and holds the potential to invigorate today's science, technology, engineering, and mathematics workforce in much the same way the race to the moon propelled those fields in the 1960s.
Along with Rensselaer, the initial NINE members include Intel Corp., Exxon Mobil Corp., IBM, Lockheed Martin Corp., Corning Inc., Goodyear Tire and Rubber, University of Wisconsin, University of California at Davis, University of Florida, Yale University, Harvard University, University of Texas at Austin, University of Illinois, Rice, Notre Dame, University of New Mexico, and Harvey Mudd College. Inclusion in the partnership was by invitation only.
About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, founded in 1824, is the nation’s oldest technological university. The university offers bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in engineering, the sciences, information technology, architecture, management, and the humanities and social sciences. Institute programs serve undergraduates, graduate students, and working professionals around the world. Rensselaer faculty are known for pre-eminence in research conducted in a wide range of fields, with particular emphasis in biotechnology, nanotechnology, information technology, and the media arts and technology. The Institute is well known for its success in the transfer of technology from the laboratory to the marketplace so that new discoveries and inventions benefit human life, protect the environment, and strengthen economic development.
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