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|Joan I Duffy
Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe discusses nanotechnology equipment with Dr. Ganeshk Kannarpady, a scientist at the UALR Center for Integrative Nanotechnology Sciences
UALR - The University of Arkansas at Little Rock - has opened its new home for the Center for Integrative Nanotechnology Sciences. The five-story, $15 million building is a working symbol of Arkansas' major stake in atomic-sized technology that will make a giant difference to the future of central Little Rock.
Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, and U.S. Congressman Tim Griffin were on hand for the May 2 opening ceremonies, citing the center's mission to take discoveries in the lab and turn them into new products, new businesses, and new jobs.
"We no longer have to take a backseat to any state in the nation,"Gov. Beebe said. "The United States has invested more than any other nation in nanotechnology, and Arkansas has kept pace. We are one of the few states in the nation where it is really happening."
The new center combines three major roles of the university -education, research, and economic development - to recruit and inspire a generation of scientists, nurture their research, and apply it to create new marketable products that launch new businesses and create new jobs for Arkansas.
"What we are doing here is quite unique. It is to combine education with research and economic development," said Dr. Alexandru Biris,director of the new center and the UALR Sturgis Chair inNanotechnology.Students - from the high school to the post-doctoral level - are already interacting with researchers and representatives of local companies to find answers and expand the understanding of how the properties of elements behave at the atomic scale and apply knowledge to development new products, enterprises, and jobs.
"We are trying to grow the next generation of scientists in Arkansas,"Biris said. "We are taking students we have met and turning them into scientists, doctors, researchers - highly educated individuals(without whom) it will be very difficult to advance economically.
"Scientists and students at the new UALR center are wrapping a few atoms of gold in a graphite nanotube a few atoms thick to hunt and kill cancer cells without affecting healthy tissue. Working with colleagues at the cross-town sister school, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, they already have succeeded with rats.
Although she is only a freshman, Natasha Sra of Cherokee Village in northeast Arkansas, is learning and discovering along with doctors and post-docs on the project.
She never heard of nanotechnology before she enrolled in the ArkansasSchool for Science, Mathematics, and the Arts and her teacher pointed her to a summer program for high schoolers at the UALR nanotechnology center. Now a freshman at UALR, the chemistry and biology major is working on novel research on how low-levels frequency on nano particles affect breast cancer cells.
The center also offers its research assistance and lab facilities to local companies, making locating and expanding businesses in centralArkansas more attractive to high-tech firms.
Almatis in Bauxite, Ark., a global leader in the development,manufacture and supply of high-quality specialty alumina products,leans on the UALR center to help test samples.
"Part of product development is working experimentally to produce samples to see what we've got and make sure it meets the requirements that the customer needs," Timothy Bullard, the company's applications and market development engineer and a UALR graduate.
"With the nano center right up the road, I can sit there with the operator and get the analysis while I wait. That allows us to develop the product quickly and get it to the customer. And in business, time is money.
"In less than a decade, the state of Arkansas and UALR have developed a major research thrust in the areas of nanotechnology, nano medicine,and nano toxicology in partnership with 12 universities in the state and region, as well as the FDA's Center for National ToxicologicalResearch. Fifty researchers around the globe are affiliated with CINS.
Biris and his research team have produced more than 260 scholarly publications and presentations. Their research discoveries have generated eight issued patents with 27 patent applications pending. Two spin-off companies in Arkansas, Orlumet, LLC and Poly Adaptive, LLC,have been established to commercialize some of these technologies.
Ongoing projects focus on the application of nanotechnology on:
Dust mitigation: UALR has developed nanoscale materials for transparent and flexible electronic dust shields. Poly Adaptive, anArkansas nanotechnology startup company, has received a $100,000National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Small BusinessInnovation Research (SBIR) contract to use new nanoscale materials to drastically reduce dust on spacecraft surfaces. Possible commercial applications of the technology include solar panels, windows, windshields, optical devices, pharmaceutical devices, and other products that are impacted by the build-up of dust particles.
Tissue regeneration: UALR research has patented nano scaffolding structures that allow living tissue growth offering the possibility of regrowing severed spinal connections, lost limbs, and more. The first spin off company from the research is based in North Little Rock and focusing on regrowing lost teeth. Other industries interested in the research? Horse racing.
Industrial coatings: UALR researchers are developing coatings on metals that will repel water, thus protecting aircraft from ice buildup, a technology in which both the military and commercial airlines are interested.
Two companies founded last year to patent the technology developed by a UALR nanotechnology team are constructing working prototypes to provide anti-counterfeiting solutions for manufacturers. Making counterfeit products is one of the most pressing issues affecting global businesses.Ultra-thin solar cells: UALR teams are developing ways to make solar panels so thin they could be painted on buildings.
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