Army scientists opening up big possibilities in small packages
Jan. 23, 2004
Aruna Jain
Staff Writer

Bryan Haynes/The Gazette

Brett Piekarski, manager of the Sensors and Electron Devices Directorate at the Army Research Laboratory in Adelphi, holds a packaged micro-resonator that filters radio frequencies.



Military seeks

business

partnerships

to fund research

Inside the 93-acre Army Research Laboratory in Adelphi, scientists Kevin Kirchner and Matthew Ervin share offices with sophisticated machines that have functions invisible to the human eye -- and indecipherable to most people.

"We play lots of tricks with layers of atoms," Kirchner said. "That's why we have all these fancy schmancy machines."

The "fancy schmancy machines" let Kirchner, Ervin and other scientists explore the world of nanotechnology: the research and development of devices at the atomic or molecular level, working with substances from 1 to 100 nanometers in length.

How big is a nanometer? One-billionth of a meter.

In such a minute world, technology can create liquid armor, high-resolution infrared technology for cameras, or technology that can let a soldier on the ground pull the trigger of a B-52 warplane using a Global Positioning System device.

But such development is expensive, and the lab is seeking business partnerships. The Army lab can provide facilities to small businesses and wants to help transfer the technology more efficiently from federal institutions to private industry for commercial application.

To that end, the Army lab and Maryland's Technology Development Corp. will host a technology-partnering showcase Feb. 3, "Providing a Competitive Advantage Through Innovative Nanotechnology." Nearly 70 companies have already signed up -- new entrepreneurs and established business alike -- mostly from along the Interstate 95 and 270 corridors, but some from as far as Ohio.

"If the high-tech industry can grow in Maryland, the Army doesn't have to build it and the state of Maryland has the benefit of more employment," said Ron Kaese of Tedco.

Piekarski works while wearing a white mask and suit. He works in the "clean room," whose ventilation system changes the air 50 times an hour. Those entering the room must first take an air shower that helps remove skin flakes, hair, dust and other particles that, compared with the nanotech devices in the clean room, are like giant buildings.

The clean room is one of the lab's features available for a small business.

"When you need a clean room, that's completely out of your grasp if you are a small technology company," Kaese said.

According to the National Nanotechnology Initiative, a government Web site, the federal government will invest $849 million in nanotechnology research and development in 2004. Private industry is expected to invest a comparable amount.

"When the commercial sector takes our technology, it becomes a lot more affordable for us. Commercial markets are huge compared to the military market," said one Army lab official.

"When [the product] is re-introduced back into the [military] market, it's more affordable."

For more information on the Feb. 3 showcase, visit www.mdhitech.org, or contact Angie Bergeron at 240-453-6267 or abergeron@mdhitech.org.

For more information on technology transfer opportunities with the Army Research Laboratory, contact Norma Cammarata at normac@arl.army.mil.