The University of Alaska Fairbanks closed its nanotechnology office on Wednesday, which neatly illustrates the problem of setting up a centre without giving much though to its purpose. Even those involved in the project didn’t seem to have much idea what they were doing and even what nanotechnology was…
But nanotechnology was a tough field to break into, especially since Outside competitors already had a head start in the study of ultra-tiny circuits and microchips. An early director of the office, Pramod Karulkar, expressed enthusiasm for the program’s potential in a 2004 UAF press release while admitting that “this endeavor is unusual for Alaska and appears risky.”
“It was a challenge from the start, because there were always competitors in this field, and we were kind of starting from ground zero,” Grimes said.
The Office of Electronic Miniaturization, which was established in 2001, was envisioned as a hub for creating products in the emerging field of microscopic technology. But instead of producing commercially viable inventions, the OEM migrated toward basic research.
Its a sad story and not confined to nanotechnology – many science parks have suffered the same fate, with constructing shiny new office buildings taking precedence over evaluating whether there is any demand. As one researcher told me over a beer in Spain almost ten years ago “nobody wants or needs this new science park, but the regional government wants to build it instead of new academic buildings. After a few years we’ll be able to use it as new offices and lab space anyway.”