UT's nanotech center teaming up with companies

Program to let businesses work with researchers in developing products

By: Cara Anna, Staff
Austin American-Statesman
October 4, 2002, Friday

The nanotechnology center at the University of Texas is increasingly reaching out to industry.

This week, the university announced the Nano ManTech program, in which companies will pay up to $20,000 a year to partner with UT researchers and push nanotech research toward actual products.

Then, based on that research, companies can apply for their own patents -- and keep any profits for themselves.

Although the program appears to depart from UT's increasing focus on making more money from its own research, UT says it will chase its own patents, with help from students from the McCombs School of Business and the IC2 Institute.

Nanotech involves working with materials at the molecular level for a world of uses -- from drug delivery to improving the efficiency of microchips.

The university, like a lot of higher-education institutions, is betting that nanotech can become a cornerstone of the next generation of high tech. UT is spending up to $35 million to renovate a 30,000-square-foot space on campus to house the 18-faculty Nano ManTech program.

The university's Center for Nano- and Molecular Science and Technology, which has a $150,000 budget, has 60 faculty members.

The school has also applied for a $14 million grant from the National Science Foundation. A one-time, $1.4 million grant for equipment came in August from the Houston-based Welch Foundation. Such grants have helped pay for $8 million in equipment during the past two years.

Already, 12 companies including IBM Corp., Texas Instruments Inc. and semiconductor consortium International Sematech have signed letters of support for the Nano ManTech program, which is based at the UT-Austin campus but includes faculty from UT-Dallas and UT-Arlington.

Those letters of support should turn into partnerships early next year, says Bob Wenz, the nanotech center's new associate director for business relations. Wenz, a former Minnesota-based researcher at 3M Corp., is hoping for up to 30 partnerships with companies.

In a separate partnership, the U.S. Naval Undersea Warfare Center is signing an agreement today to help with graduate research at UT's nanotech center.

canna@statesman.com; 445-3639