NSF Awards DCTC $3 Million Grant for Nanotechnology Project

Midwest Regional Center for Nanotechnology Education, or Nano-Link, will be partnership between several colleges, universities and industry entities.

The National Science Foundation awarded Dakota County Technical College a $3 million grant to develop the Midwest Regional Center for Nanotechnology Education, or Nano-Link.

Situated on DCTC’s Rosemount campus, Nano-Link will work to create a skilled workforce of nanotechnologists to enhance economic growth in nanoscale science and technology. The center builds on the success of DCTC’s pioneering Nanoscience Technology program, which was established in partnership with the University of Minnesota to prepare graduates for employment in the abundant array of industries where nanoscience applications are rapidly emerging.

More than 30 Minnesota companies participated in the development of the DCTC nanoscience technology curriculum, which will serve as Nano-Link’s educational platform. Many of these companies have hired DCTC nanoscience technology graduates in nano-related technician positions. Those same companies report that the need for nanotechnologists far exceeds the numbers the DCTC program can produce.

Nano-Link will provide resources and support to colleges throughout a five-state Midwest region from North Dakota to Michigan. Six two-year colleges in North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan have partnered to develop this center along with two outstanding regional research universities, the University of Minnesota and Northwestern University.

The singular project is designed to promote competitiveness and future job growth in the full spectrum of U.S. industries resourcing the potential of nanoscience, including biotechnology, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, agriculture, materials, energy and electronics.

Dr. Ron Thomas, DCTC president, reported that the NSF grant to develop Nano-Link represents a tremendous honor for the college. “We are pleased that DCTC has been asked to take on a critical role in the future expansion of nanotechnology training throughout the U.S.,” Thomas said. “The National Science Foundation grant was one of the most competitive grants in the nation.”

Nano-Link Leadership Team
  • Deb Newberry, director of DCTC Nanoscience Technology program
    • Director of Nano-Link Midwest Regional Center
  • Dr. Ron Erickson, DCTC vice president of academic and student affairs
    • Co-principle investigator
  • Dr. Steve Campbell, director of Nanofabrication Center at the University of Minnesota
    • Co-PI
  • Dr. Michael Burke, director of the North Dakota State College Center for Nanoscience Technology Training
    • Co-PI
  • Dr. Thomas Deits, chairperson of the Science Department at Lansing Community College
    • Co-PI

A thoroughly interdisciplinary field, nanotechnology is sometimes called a great melting pot of research. Nanotechnologists must understand the fundamental behavior patterns of atoms and molecules. Equipped with increasingly sophisticated equipment, they are constantly pushing back the frontiers of physics, biology and engineering on a hugely small scale.

Derived from the Greek word for “dwarf,” the prefix nano means “one billionth.” In respect to nanotechnology, the term involves the measure of one nanometer, or one billionth of a meter. As a reference point, the average virus on Earth is around 100 nanometers in length. Comparing one meter to one nanometer is like comparing the diameter of our planet to the diameter of a single hazelnut.

The United States alone expends more than $3 billion annually on nanotech research and development. The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars catalogs 500 existing products that integrate nanoscience applications. The National Science Foundation reports that the market for such products will reach $1 trillion by 2012. A global assembly of nano industries will soon employ upwards of 2 million people.

Nano-Link Director Deb Newberry believes that the new regional center is primed to stimulate a massive groundswell in nanoscience exploration and development. “The potential for growth is exponential,” Newberry said. “We anticipate that Nano-Link in partnership with the National Science Foundation will help make nanoscience one of the great foundational technologies of our nation’s future.”