Tiny technologies could help Oregon make it big

Some of Oregon’s most influential residents believe research done at the tiniest of scales — on molecules one-billionth and one-millionth of a meter in size — will save the state from its economic tailspin and prop up its business infrastructure for years to come.

Oregon has plenty of competition: Dozens of states and individual universities have already delved into so-called nano- and microtechnology research. Yet state leaders say Oregon has a distinct advantage in the relatively unexplored area of “multiscale,” a field that combines nanoscale research with microtechnology work.

Supporters of the state’s newly minted initiative insist that with planning and adequate funding, Oregon will evolve into an internationally recognized leader and reap the rewards of hundreds of commercial spin-offs.

One of the biggest challenges will be to get Oregon’s universities to coordinate their research and funding strategies, planners say.

“Nanotechnology has emerged as one of the strongest concentrations in this state, but everyone’s doing it in a slightly different way with a slightly different view,” said Jim Johnson, a former Intel site manager and high-tech supporter.

The Oregon Council for Knowledge and Economic Development, formed in 2001, will serve as lobbying platform for scientists, business leaders and lawmakers interested in Oregon’s multiscale future.

Republican state Sen. Ryan Deckert of Ontario introduced legislation earlier this month that would provide $30 million in start-up funding and long-term bonds to the Microtechnology Breakthrough Lab, a research partnership between Oregon State and the Pacific Northwest National Lab in Richland, Wash.

“I think what’s critical here is for Oregon to invest enough money so that we’re so far ahead that it’s too expensive for California to try to catch up,” Drost said. “The question isn’t, are there billion-dollar industries in this field, but will they be in Oregon?”

Attracting federal funding is critical to the solution. Without it, Oregon will never become a true center for research that competes with and attracts scientists nationwide, experts say.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., last month co-sponsored legislation that would provide nearly $700 million for nanotechnology, including funds for a national nanotechnology research lab somewhere in the United States. The funding would supplement $700 million already spread between 17 national agencies.

He compared Oregon’s proposed $30 million legislation with the $400 million New York just approved in state and industry funds for a nanotechnology research center in Albany.



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