University closes nanotechnology office

Posted: Friday, July 02, 2010

FAIRBANKS - The University of Alaska Fairbanks has closed its nanotechnology office.

Established in 2001, the Office of Electronic Miniaturization was envisioned as a hub for creating products in the emerging field of microscopic technology. But instead of producing commercially viable inventions, the office migrated toward basic research.

That drift led its closure, UAF spokeswoman Marmian Grimes said.

Grimes said nine term-funded employees at the nanotechnology office did not have their contracts renewed. Wednesday was their last day. It's unclear what will happen to the building and the equipment inside.

Grimes said the closure is unrelated to other budget-cutting efforts at the university. The office was funded almost entirely by federal earmarks - more than $30 million during its decade of operation - and was separated from the rest of campus, both physically and philosophically.

Located in a nondescript industrial park building in South Fairbanks, the office pursued economic development projects and offered no instruction.

Former Sen. Ted Stevens championed the program, securing Department of Defense funds to open OEM and keep it running. Grimes, however, said nanotechnology was not an easy field to break into.

"It was a challenge from the start, because there were always competitors in this field, and we were kind of starting from ground zero," Grimes said.

But Shiva Hullavarad, an OEM research professor, said the office simply needed more time to achieve its potential.

"The farmer plants some seeds and gets a harvest," Hullavarad said. "It's the same thing here."

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