GMU gets $3.75M to grow Virginia’s nanotech industry

George Mason University will launch a new program to catalyze the growth of the nanotechnology industry in Northern Virginia, thanks to $3.75 million in grants.

The Fairfax institution is receiving $2.5 million for the initiative through Go Virginia Region 7, the local chapter of the commonwealth-funded initiative led by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. The “Nano-Imagine” initiative will include workforce training and support for nanotech startups.

Another $1.25 million came through university funds, as well as the Prince William County Department of Economic Development and employer partners Boise, Idaho-based computer memory company Micron Technology Inc. (NASDAQ: MU), which has a Manassas manufacturing plant, and Falls Church-based BAE Systems Inc., the U.S. subsidiary of the British aerospace company BAE Systems PLC.

Nanotechnology is the sector of science and engineering that specifically deals with the design and production at the nanoscale, between 1 to 100 nanometers. Other nanotech companies that are looking for talent and partnering with this program include Fibertek Inc. in Herndon and Weinberg Medical Physics LLC in Rockville.

The project is a joint effort led by the university’s college of engineering and computing, college of science and the office of research, innovation and economic impact.

The project is designed to support 185 trained workers ready to enter the nanotech job market in its third year, as well as form three new startups, through the resources that will outfit its recently constructed nanofabrication facility at the university’s Manassas campus, said Amy Adams, executive director of Mason’s Institute for Biohealth Innovation.

“We don’t know the companies that will be created at the moment, but project the equipped Nanofabrication Facility will become a regional resource for innovative new product prototyping, which will stimulate the creation and expansion of new companies in Northern Virginia,” Adams said in an email. “The region is home to a large veteran and racially diverse population, an established semiconductor and nanotechnology industry, and commercial lab space.”

The university recently built a $3 million, 1,946-square-foot nanofabrication facility at its science and technology campus, with the necessary facilities to provide hands-on workforce training and resources for small incubators to grow, Adams said. The new grant funding will be used to purchase tools for a “clean room” facility.

In the program’s second year, the university will launch a workforce readiness portion, serving a total of 125 students. This will include a clean-room certificate class, mostly for associate degree graduates; 26 new undergraduate and graduate classes that use the clean-room laboratory to teach nanotechnologies within life sciences and engineering fields; and an educational boot camp for high school students.

“As the U.S. moves to reestablish its global leadership in micro- and nano-electronics, having a sizable workforce able to design and fabricate electronic chips is vital,” Ken Ball, dean of George Mason University’s college of engineering and computing, said in a statement. “Nano-Imagine is an important element of the commonwealth’s efforts to build that workforce.”

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