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New Center for Integrative Nanotechnology Sciences Opens in Arkansas

With recent the opening of UALR’s Center for Integrative Nanotechnology Sciences, Arkansas hopes to be a leader in transferring discoveries in the lab to new products, new businesses, and new jobs.

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With the opening of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Center for Integrative Nanotechnology Sciences today, May 2, Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe said, “We no longer have to take a backseat to any state in the nation” in transferring discoveries in the lab to new products, new businesses, and new jobs.

“We are one of the few states in the nation where it is really happening,” the governor said.

Beebe joined U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin, as well as Chancellor Joel E. Anderson and University of Arkansas System President Donald Bobbitt at the dedication of UALR’s newest facility.

The $15 million, five-story building provides research facilities for scientists and students to explore the interface between nanomaterials, plant biology, and mammalian biology.

The center’s 50,534 square feet will house laboratories and a greenhouse on the roof, along with office space for Dr. Alexandru S. Biris, his nine-member research team, and other staff – a giant leap from the cramped 7,201 square feet of previously dedicated space.

“This building represents both technology much smaller than the naked eye can see and a huge opportunity for Arkansas’s economy that we all can see,” Beebe said, attributing the quote to a staff member. “They are arranging molecules and atoms to create new material that never existed before. They are doing something that the stars did.”

Dr. Biris, director and the chief scientist at the new center, said the additional space in the new building will mean more research opportunities for student scientists who interact with researchers and representatives of local companies to find answers and expand the understanding of how the properties of elements behave at the nano or atomic scale.

“What we are doing here is quite unique – combining education with research and economic development,” said Biris, who holds the UALR Sturgis Chair in Nanotechnology.

“We are growing the next generation of scientists in Arkansas. We are taking students and turning them into scientists, doctors, and researchers – highly educated individuals without whom it will be very difficult to advance the state economically.”

Outreach programs that include a Nano Academy for high school students and an undergraduate research internship program create in-depth educational opportunities for young people in Arkansas that previously did not exist. The research done at the center then provides opportunities for these young scientists to advance their careers within the state.

Nanomaterials and their applications have been identified as one of nine focus areas with commercial potential for Arkansas. In 2006, the state invested $5.9 million to establish the Nanotechnology Center at UALR to foster world-class research and development in the state. The Center for Integrative Nanotechnology Sciences has since received $6.8 million in federal and state funding to expand research efforts.

In less than a decade, the state of Arkansas and UALR have developed a major research thrust in the areas of nanotechnology, nanomedicine, and nanotoxicology in partnership with 12 universities in the state and region, as well as the FDA’s Center for National Toxicological Research. Fifty researchers around the globe are affiliated with the center.

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.

Nanotechnology, the study and application of extremely small things (a human hair is about 90,000 nanometers wide), spans all science disciplines. Globally, nanotechnologies are estimated to grow to a $2.4 trillion economic impact by 2015, affecting everyday products such as eyeglasses, computer displays, fabrics, cosmetic products, dental implants, and pharmaceutical products. By 2020, nanotechnology is projected to create two million jobs in the U.S.

David Millay, associate vice chancellor of UALR Facilities Management, is optimistic that the green construction will achieve gold LEED certification. Seventeen percent of the construction work was performed by minority business enterprises. The contractor for the building was East Harding, Inc.; architectural firm was Witsell Evans Rasco; and engineering firm was TME, Inc. Funding for the project allowed for completion and furnishing of the first three of five floors.