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Sidebar: Beyond the Bridges

Sidebar: Beyond the Bridges

Beyond the city borders, New York State is an active hub for cutting-edge science.

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"If you visited 15 years ago, nobody would have been here," remarks Dean Fuleihan, executive vice president for strategic partnerships at the College for Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE) in Albany. Founded as an affiliate of the State University of New York in 2002 and recently authorized to become an independent entity, CNSE is many things—but underpopulated isn't one of them. With 3,100 people on site and 140,000 square feet of clean room, the world's only college devoted to nanoscience operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week doing some of the world's most advanced semiconductor research and fabrication and revitalizing the manufacturing workforce in the Capital Region.

For a site engaged in proprietary work with some 300 corporate partners around the world, CNSE is surprisingly, literally, transparent. The clean rooms, home to new techniques that stand to dramatically increase chip efficiency, are surrounded by glass walls. Nothing is hidden to those who visit the facility, whether dozens of middle and high school girls who participate in the college's five-year STEM enrichment program, or President Obama, who made his first-ever clean room visit shortly after taking office.

This openness is characteristic of the college's approach to education. "We don't have traditional departments," Fuleihan says. "Our students see engineers working with physicists and biologists, and they witness real-world partnerships with industry and the private sector. The end users for the technologies we develop are all here. There's no better way to learn."

"If you visited 15 years ago, nobody would have been here."

CNSE students have plenty of opportunities to do just that—in addition to serving as a research testbed for global nanotech leaders including IBM, Intel, GlobalFoundries, Toshiba, and Applied Materials, the college is engaged in its own projects. Among them is the largest Department of Energy grant ever awarded— $57 million over five years to advance the efficiency of solar cells. "You can see why we're 24/7," jokes Fuleihan.

CNSE has been touted as a model for other university-driven research enterprises, and the ripple effects can be felt 200 miles away, on Long Island. Inspired by the Albany campus, the founders of the Advanced Energy Research and Technology Center (AERTC), energy executive Robert B. Catell and Yacov Shamash, dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Stony Brook University, created a similar partnership to spark innovation in the energy sector.

Several years, $45 million state dollars, and one LEED platinum-certified research facility later, AERTC has marshaled the support of partners including 14 universities; dozens of federal laboratories, such as Long Island-based Brookhaven National Labs; local and national utilities; and telecommunications companies. A leading priority, according to Catell, is educating the public on the importance of improving the country's energy delivery structure. Catell believes that public education, combined with the development of compelling new energy solutions "starting with generation and moving down to the customer" will transform the industry.

AERTC's facility fosters energy research including solar, wind, water, and fuel cells, and runs simulations of methods to improve the efficiency and security of the energy grid. It also has a stake in entrepreneurship, through the five companies in its in-house incubator, as well as its participation in Accelerate Long Island (ALI).

Founded in 2011 with a mission to commercialize research and establish an entrepreneurial hub on Long Island, ALI has connected with more than 100 local start-ups in 2013 alone. Together with the region's universities, research institutions, and the business community, ALI supports entrepreneurs through funding and a free, intensive mentoring program for high-tech start-ups.

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Hallie Kapner is a freelance writer in New York City.

Photo: A researcher works inside a state-of-the-art clean room at the SUNY College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering.