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Rushford aims to build Nanobridge into 21st century


Fri, Aug 29th, 2003
Posted in Features

Nanotechnology? Nanu, nanu? No, it’s not a flashback to the old days of Robin Williams’ Mork and Mindy! According to Kevin Klungtvedt of the Rushford Institute for Nanotechnology (RINT), nanotechnology is the “direct manipulating of atoms and molecules at the atomic level.” (A nanometer is a billionth of a meter, the size of a small molecule.)

Matt Kramer, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), visited Rushford August 27th to learn more about nanotechnology and the Rushford Institute for Nanotechnology. Rushford is the only small town in Minnesota to take such an interest in the development of nanotechnology at this time.

Klungtvedt, in his nanotechnology PowerPoint presentation, predicted that the 21st century will be the nanotechnology century. As a result of this technology, products will be cheaper, cleaner, faster, stronger, quieter, more efficient, and produce less waste and pollution in production. With nanotechnology, customers could specify properties desired in a material and the material could be created to the customer’s specifications.

Getting practical, Klungvedt gave illustrations of nanotechnology currently in use. MCM 41 from Exxon Mobil is used to screen molecules in gasoline production, increasing gasoline production by 40 percent. L’Oreal Plentitude uses nanotechnology to treat the third layer of skin with vitamins and minerals. Stain resistant clothing also uses nanotechnology. Plumbing companies are working on a nonstick coating for bathroom fixtures, and medical clothing suppliers are working on clothing to which bacteria will not be able to adhere.

Klungtvedt emphasized that if companies were “not into research, they would not be into production.” RINT’s purpose is “to act as catalyst for organizations and individuals pursuing their goals.” RINT will furnish lab space, collaborate on research and provide business support services with 80 percent of funding going for lab equipment. Early stage business advice is seen as very helpful by scientists who often lack that skill and are concentrating on research.

Education is a big part of the planned RINT’s function. Already Community Education nanotech classes have been offered and two of R-P’s teachers have written the first nanotech graduation standards for their classes. Southeast Technical College is currently working on a two-year nanotechnology program as well.

Deb Newberry, a physicist and president of Newberry Technologies, enthused about the study of nanotechnology. It integrates disciplines and courses even further than past sciences with concepts applying to various disciplines, crossing the lines between biology, natural sciences, and electrical, for example. Nanotechnology captures the imaginations of students. With computer simulation and modeling, students can “see” what is happening at a molecular level. Remote lab work is possible via the Internet as well.

Minnesota is a prime area for the development of nanotechnology because of its reputation for educational excellence and work ethics. A downfall, however, is the availability of venture capital, funding to make it all come together. Venture capital is usually more available on both the west and east coast areas of the country.

SEMDC executive director, Joe Hoffman pointed to the potential use of the JOBZ program in Rushford to encourage business development in Rushford and detailed SEMDC’s work in grant writing, revolving loans, and community support programs.

Dr. Willie Hendrickson of CIMA Nanotechnologies spoke via a video presentation because he was too busy with his nanotechnology businesses to attend. Hendrickson has one of six producing nanotech companies and is located in Fredericksburg and Cresco, Iowa. He is working on a process to produce conductive metal nanoparticles to make rocket fuel for jet planes and on silver conductive inks for ID tags. Hendrickson predicts the conductive inks will be a five to ten billion dollar business in the next few years. He places Rushford high on his list of future locations, but says venture funding is needed before he can proceed.

Alice Zimmer, director of learning resources at Southeast Technical College, detailed the three ways to secure funding: building relationships at the local level, getting legislation passed at the state and federal level, and approaching economic foundations and grant agencies. Zimmer stressed that state and federal partnership was necessary before grants were likely from economic foundations and agencies.

Harlan Jacobs, president of Genesis Business Systems, proclaimed that Rushford had a unique opportunity to “put itself on the map” with nanotechnology. He informed the audience that an Israeli company with three million in government funding had recently merged with Dr, Hendrickson’s company, and that an investment banking company in Japan was considering a five million dollar investment. Jacobs suggested the possibility of accelerating funding by McKnight and Blandin foundations.

RINT is looking for a one time funding of six million dollars, a relatively small amount. Klungtvedt compared the expense to that of two bridges, calling the project a “nanobridge.”

Political leaders Senator Bob Kierlin and Matt Kramer both hinted at changes in available state revenues. Kierlin, comparing nanotechnology in Rushford to the composite industry development by the Miller Brothers in Winona, said we’ll see a “pleasant surprise in revenues coming to the state of Minnesota in April.”

Kramer in closing the assembly stressed the need for community involvement with a “common focus, common objective.” He also said that hopefully the state will have incentive dollars to encourage nanotechnology. Kramer, in answer to the question, “Why Rushford?” said proximity was no longer a necessity, but rather a good community infrastructure.

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