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Oregon State University doctoral candidate Becca Cullion shows Sen. Ron Wyden some of the fruits of her research at OSU, technology that could eventually go into cooling systems for firefighters or soldiers.
Microtechnology key to state's future
By THERESA HOGUE
Universities pool resources for research
Good things come in small packages. The old cliche may not hold true for a 5-year-old at Christmas, but researchers at Oregon State University and University of Oregon are banking that tiny treasures will attract top dollars to their schools.
A collaboration between OSU, UO, Portland State University and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory brings micro- and nanotechnologies together in the form of the Multiscale Materials and Devices Research Center, temporarily housed in a building at Hewlett Packard Co.
The research center merges research done by the universities on tiny machines and miniscule systems, and the collaboration could result in new technology, new companies and new jobs for Oregon.
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden is a proponent of developing nanotechnology in the state, and was the chief sponsor of the recently passed Nanotechnology Research and Development Act, which authorizes $3.7 billion for nanotechnology research and education, beginning in 2005.
Wyden visited OSU Friday to talk with some of the members and supporters of the signature research center, focusing on ways to draw some of that $3.7 billion in Oregon's direction.
The research center at OSU has received $1.2 million from Congress for the upcoming year.
OSU Ph.D. candidate Becca Cullion demonstrated some of her research on Friday.
"I would bet you a dollar, which is serious money for a graduate student, that you are carrying something on you that can save lives during chemical warfare," she said, waving a dollar bill at Wyden, who laughed and told her he couldn't take bets.
Cullion explained that she was working on a microscale cooling device that would be small enough for firefighters or soldiers to carry and keep them cool inside their suits.
Previous microscale and nanoscale designs ran liquid through parallel channels, which were impractical for carrying the amount of liquid needed to create a cooling system. Cullion likened it to drinking a milkshake through a coffee stirrer.
But now, thanks to the work of OSU professor Deborah Pence, new designs are based on biological systems, such as a heart pumping blood through veins and arteries.
"We're taking that design and putting it in fractals," Cullion explained.
She and another student demonstrated how easily liquid can be funneled through branching channels, rather than parallel ones, by mimicking the system on a larger, more visible scale in the laboratory.
"And because you have a heart," Cullion said, "I can keep my dollar."
"This is the face of Oregon's economic future," Wyden said after the demonstration. "This is the reason I poured my heart and soul into supporting nanotechnology."
Wyden said Oregon had a chance to be out front in nanotechnology research, and that the state is well positioned to get a share of the $3.7 billion in funding.
"A big part of our job is to translate this in English for people," he said, pointing to the demonstration. "We're going to have a big job to lay this out. It's the science of small stuff, the science of miniaturization."
He said most Oregonians don't know how the research happening at universities can translate into the real world, and it's important that they understand these devices could protect the military overseas as well as firefighters at home.
"This is going to be a big deal to someone on their knees in the desert of Afghanistan," Wyden said.
Wyden participated in a discussion after the demonstration, and talked about how strong research and collaboration could position the research center well when nanotechnology dollars are distributed. He also discussed the need to strengthen basic research funding at universities, including facilities improvements.
Theresa Hogue is the higher education reporter for the Gazette-Times. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 758-9526.
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