Md., Va., D.C. form group to foster nanotech


Maryland joined Virginia and the District of Columbia yesterday in a new initiative designed to focus the region's push into the nascent but promising field of nanotechnology.

The Chesapeake Nanotech Initiative was created to accelerate scientific advancement and business development in the field, which focuses on creating tiny devices and materials for computers, medicine, consumer products and military applications.

A steering committee and three working groups have been formed, and organizers say they intend to have a more detailed strategic plan in place by the end of this year.

"Because nanotechnology represents such a huge opportunity, the thinking was that an initiative like this one would allow the [Maryland-D.C.-Virginia] region to take advantage of strengths it already has," said Aris Melissaratos, secretary of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, in an interview yesterday.

The region has federal nanotech resources such as a new $235 million National Institute of Standards and Technology lab in Gaithersburg, the Goddard Space Flight Center, the Naval Research Laboratory, the Army Research Laboratory and the National Science Foundation.

Nanotechnology is a broad term encompassing the science of creating materials or fully functioning devices so small that they are measured on an atomic scale.

The technology could lead to self-repairing parts, artificial muscles driven through neural circuitry, microscopic sensors, new delivery systems for medicines, or implants to repair damaged retinas.

Though the market is young, the money available for research is becoming large. Worldwide financing for nanotech research and development was expected to reach $8.6 billion in 2004, with the U.S. government projected to spend $1 billion in the coming fiscal year, according to Chesapeake Nanotech Initiative.

Global industrial production in nanotech-related sectors is likely exceed $1 trillion within 10 years to 15 years, according to a National Science Foundation forecast.

Top elected officials and economic development leaders in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia have been talking for months about ways to best capitalize on the region's strengths, initiative officials said yesterday at a Rockville news conference announcing the initiative.

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Virginia Gov. Mark Warner and Washington Mayor Anthony A. Williams met Tuesday and agreed to sign a memorandum of agreement that formally launched the initiative.

Currently, the partnership has no formal budget of its own - although the three participants are devoting employee time and other resources to the research supporting the effort.

"What we're striving to do is to raise [the] visibility of this entire region," said Peter Jobse, president of Virginia's Center for Innovative Technology, and a co-chairman overseeing the CNI steering committee.

Christopher C. Foster, the Maryland development agency's assistant secretary and the state's chief scientist, is the other steering committee co-chairman.

The 12-person steering committee includes: Nariman Farvardin, dean of the University of Maryland's A. James Clark School of Engineering; Sharon L. Smith, director of advanced technology at Lockheed Martin Corp.; Peter Hughes, chief technologist at Goddard; and James S. Murday, chief scientist for the Office of Naval Research.

The committee will oversee three working groups. The nano-biotech group will look at possible ways the region's robust biotechnology industry might feed into the market. The industry-clustering group will consider other slices of the local nanotech sector. The best-practices group will study management/leadership development and education among other issues, officials said.

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