Public-private partnerships and
interdisciplinary collaboration accelerate a technology's transition
from pure research to practical use or commercialization. At Caltech
(also home to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory) is the Institute for
Collaborative Biotechnologies (ICB), formed four years ago through a
unique alliance of industry, academia, and the U.S. Army.
Interdisciplinary teams of molecular biologists, chemists, physicists,
and engineers from Caltech, UCSB, and the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology are developing biomolecular sensors, photovoltaic
nanoparticles, bacteriophages - which automatically assemble
semiconductor nanocrystals that can be spun into fibers and woven into
fabrics - and many other futuristic technologies for applications
limited only by the imagination. Although the work is meant to advance
the Army's capabilities, the research is unclassified and ICB
encourages industry involvement. Palo Alto-based biotech firm Genencor
International and more than a dozen other companies specializing in
nano or biotech are listed as ICB industrial partners.
University of California at Berkeley houses the National Science
Foundation's Center of Integrated Nanomechanical Systems, where
multidisciplinary teams are focusing on development of
nanotechnology-based detection systems that combine nanoscale sensing,
power, electronics, wireless communication, and mobility into a single
platform. Industrial partners include IBM, HP, Intel, Honeywell,
ChevronTexaco, General Electric, and Nanomix.
nonprofit organization founded two years ago in San Diego to promote
nanotech and biotech research and commercialization, is building a
worldwide network of experts in these fields from both industry and
academia, working to connect them with actual projects. Already, the
group has seen success, getting a molecular diagnostics project going
at Oxford Nanolabs in England and leading the team that last year won a
five-year National Cancer Institute grant to establish the NanoTumor
Center at University of California San Diego, which is now researching
development and commercialization of nanotechnology to diagnose, treat,
and monitor cancer.
"In nanotechnology, there is an incredible
amount of research going on in laboratories, but commercialization is a
long-term, arduous process," says NanoBioNexus member and spokesperson
Sandra Kay Helsel, Ph.D., who notes that it can take years for a
startup nanotech company to establish itself in the marketplace.
Networking on an international scale is a key part of the process, she
emphasizes - in contrast to the early days of computer technology
developments, nanotech, she says, "can't be built in someone's garage."
One trend that Helsel has observed is that many entrepreneurs and
researchers involved in nanotech are shifting their efforts more toward
cleantech developments. "Nanotech is so long-term, and cleantech
funding is easier to come by right now,"
According to a report
published last September by the Milken Institute analyzing the
commercialization of university-based biotech research, California
leads the nation in venture capital funding for biotech. Continued
state investment virtually assures that it will keep that lead.
California's tradition of innovation, its world-class universities and
national laboratories, its ever-evolving and expanding network of
high-tech industry clusters, and its technology-friendly government
policies combine to offer a clear strategic advantage to technology
companies of all types and sizes.