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State seen poised to gain from nanotechnology

Boston Globe
By Robert Gavin, Globe Staff, 3/6/2004

Nanotechnology creates devices smaller than a human hair, and it might just be the next big thing in Massachusetts.

A new study by the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative and Cambridge-based Nano Science and Technology Institute says the state's universities, entrepreneurial networks, and diversified technology base make it well-positioned to cash in on this emerging field, which the federal government projects could create a $1 trillion worldwide market by 2015. Scientists see the technology, which builds structures about one-thousandth the width of a human hair, leading to an array of new materials and products, from longer-lasting batteries to more powerful computers to ''smart pills" that deliver the right dose of drugs at the right time.

The study, released in conjunction with a national nanotechnology conference that opens in Boston tomorrow, finds that Massachusetts has already grabbed a lead in the field, much of it based on the strength of its research universities. To maintain the lead, the state must support university research efforts, and bring together academia and industry to commercialize discoveries, the study said. ''We have to continue to win on research," said Thomas Hubbard, vice president for technology development at the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, a state economic development agency. ''And we have to exploit the burgeoning amount of intellectual property that's coming out of our universities." Massachusetts is already home to two federally funded nanotechnology research centers: Harvard University's Center for the Science of Nanoscale Systems and Their Device Applications, and the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In addition, the state's universities boast top-ranked programs in a variety of disciplines critical to nanotechnology, including physics, chemistry, materials science, and biomedical engineering the study said.

The entrepreneurial culture and well-established venture capital sector in the state also provide key components to move products from the lab to the marketplace, the study said. A number of start-ups are already at work, using nanotechnology to build lighter and cheaper solar cells, improve computer memory, and enhance drug discovery. Massachusetts has at least 100 firms developing nanoscale products and processes, the study estimated.

Ultimately, the study said, nanotechnology's greatest impact is likely to come from its application across many industries, and Massachusetts has a mix that is likely to benefit most from nanotechnology, including electronics, medical devices, biotechnology and advanced materials.

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