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WUNC reports from Greensboro about Guilford County and surrounding area.

Nanotechnology School Opens in Greensboro

Dean Jim Ryan gives a demonstration of the 3-D visualization room
Jeff Tiberii

Yesterday the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering in Greensboro cut the ribbon to its brand new 64 million dollar facility. Students from UNC-Greensboro and North Carolina A&T State University have been using temporary facilities for the past year. Now, they have state-of-the-art technology as they research everything from diseases to the components of a cell phone.

Dean Jim Ryan leads a tour through the new Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering in Greensboro. There is a 3-D visualization suite, research labs, and a clean room. There are only a few schools like this in the country. Nano is the study of things at the most basic of levels – think smaller than an individual cell. The concept in essence is to study how things work and apply ways to make them more efficient.

Jim Ryan: "Nanotechnology is used in many, many fields, from cement to chemotherapy."

Nanotechnology is used in making clothing that removes sweat from your body, in chips for cell phones, tint for your car window, and medical equipment you see at the hospital. Nanoscience PhD Candidate Joseph Estevez is researching and creating ways to better build planes.

Joseph Estevez: "The type of materials we are making are going to be stronger materials, lighter materials so you’re going to save money on gas which makes the cost of flying cheaper; it also makes the planes last longer."

The $64 million dollar facility was funded primarily by the state. Assistant Professor of Nanoscience Adam Hall says the goal is to make medical, technological and scientific breakthroughs.

Adam Hall: "The technology we have here is found almost nowhere else in the world. We have called a helium ion microscope; we have one of 6 in the United States and about 20 in the world. It’s the only one in the Southeast at the moment."

Currently 44 students are working on master’s and doctorate degrees. Several more research buildings are part of the Joint School’s 10-year plan. Ross Kozarsky is an analyst at Lux Research, an international advisory firm.

Ross Kozarsky: "Greensboro and that area is definitely on the forefront of bio-nanotechnology or nanotechnology and its relations to the life sciences. In terms of developing commercial biomedical products that leverage nanotechnology anything from pharmaceuticals to fertilizer. There’s definitely a lot of interesting nanotechnology going on around the life sciences, in that area."

The joint school has collaborated with some Triad based companies such as RF Microdevices, which makes wireless devices and components for cell phones, among other things. Dean Ryan says students have already applied for half a dozen patents.

Ryan: "And so a school like this that teaches about this enabling technology and performs research, I think it becomes very valuable. Not only in terms of promoting what will be the knowledge economy of the 21st century and enabling out students to get jobs, but also promoting innovation, and hopefully attract jobs to the area."

Ryan says as the school grows, his hope is that scientific breakthroughs will attract partners, businesses and more money for research at the facility. This spring the joint school is projecting its first graduating class, of one. In the next ten years projections indicate the program will have a local economic impact of half a billion dollars.

Jeff Tiberii covers politics for WUNC. Before that, he served as the station's Greensboro Bureau Chief.
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