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Wake Forest University is hoping that a new resource for businesses that deal in materials production or analysis will help build a new industry cluster.
The university, with financial help from the DataMax Foundation, will soon make access available to its materials analysis lab on Deacon Boulevard, complete with a new multi-million dollar scanning nanoprobe. That's a device that, when used in conjunction with super-sensitive microscopes also at the lab, can generate a map of the elemental composition of every nanometer of a material to identify impurities or weaknesses.
What will be unique about the program, said David Carroll, director of Wake Forest's Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials, is that lab access will be free for companies that can make good use of its equipment, such as those involved in thin films and coatings, manufacturing or even auto racing technology.
Laboratory staffers will be available to help, he said, but companies won't be required to enter into any sort of long-term relationship with the school.
"In my experience, a lot of companies want to work with universities, but don't want a binding relationship because they still want to be able to sell what they make" freely, which could be complicated by access agreements, Carroll said. "If you want to build a relationship with us we hope you will, but we won't ask you to plop down $30,000 as soon as you walk through the door. That will be a big difference, especially to a small company that may not even be sure they need this kind of equipment yet."
Carroll is working with an industrial advisory board to formulate access procedures and outreach efforts, he said. The lab will hold open house events and speak with area networking organizations to help get the word out, he said.
In Greensboro, the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering is also planning to increase access to its equipment and resources once its new building at Gateway University Research Park is open early next year, said Dean Jim Ryan. The JSNN and Gateway are both joint projects of UNC-Greensboro and N.C. A&T State University.
Ryan said JSNN's model favors co-location arrangements whereby companies do enter into formal arrangements with the school, but more simple fee-based access is also allowed.
"We've got a company co-located and we're getting requests to use the equipment," Ryan said.
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