US Department of Defense funds Texas Nanotechnology Consortium

US Air Force, Universities to study, commercialize aerospace technology

HOUSTON, Nov. 2, 2006 -- The Department of Defense will use a $1.4 million appropriation secured by U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison to fund the Consortium for Nanomaterials for Aerospace Commerce and Technology (CONTACT), a consortium of seven leading Texas universities created to develop and commercialize revolutionary nanomaterials for the defense aerospace industry.

CONTACT includes Rice University, The University of Texas at Austin, the University of Texas at Dallas, the University of Texas at Arlington, the University of Texas at Brownsville, the University of Texas Pan American and the University of Houston.

CONTACT researchers will partner with the Air Force Research Laboratory's Materials and Manufacturing Directorate (AFRL/ML) in Dayton, Ohio to develop and rapidly commercialize the next-generation composites and smart materials the Air Force needs to ensure U.S. air superiority in the 21st Century.

"Texas has emerged as a preeminent leader in nanotechnology research," said Sen. Hutchison. "The formation of CONTACT is crucial to future advances in this important field."

The new consortium will have a steering committee made up of the vice-presidents for research and an executive committee of the directors of nanotechnology centers at each of the participating universities. The consortium executive committee will be chaired by Dr. Paul Barbara, director of the Center for Nano and Molecular Science and Technology at The University of Texas Austin.

"CONTACT will create unprecedented opportunities for nanomaterials commercialization at each partner institution, further building the foundations for a successful nanotechnology industry in Texas," said Barbara.

CONTACT's activities build upon a four-year federal investment in nanotechnology research infrastructure at the partner institutions. That program, the Strategic Partnership for Research in Nanotechnology (SPRING), was supported with $37.5 million for the purchase of critical equipment and infrastructure at the seven partner schools.

"Texas is already a leader in nanotechnology research, and this critical funding will help us leverage that for aerospace commerce, a strong national defense and high-tech jobs statewide," said Dr. Jack Agee, CONTACT's new executive director. Agee, who will run day-to-day operations of CONTACT, will be housed at Rice.

Agee, who served most recently as director of physics and electronics at the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, is a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers and an Associate Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

"SPRING and CONTACT are precisely the kind of federal-state partnerships that the U.S. needs in order to insure that the nation's investment in nanotechnology pays off in the form of better jobs, improved national security and a stronger economy," said Dr. Wade Adams, director of Rice's Richard E. Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology.

CONTACT's research program calls for:

  • the establishment of an industrial partnership for transferring technology to the private sector and transitioning capabilities into Air Force and Department of Defense systems.
  • the formation of an intellectual property management team with at least five key industrial partners having technical transfer and transition experience.
  • the development of a broad network of commercialization partners that includes small- and medium-sized businesses.
  • one-third of CONTACT appropriations to go toward the purchase of critical R&D equipment and infrastructure.
  • the development of revolutionary nanomanufacturing platforms to enable transition of technologies into military applications and commercial products.
  • integration of education and research programs in aerospace technologies in collaboration with University of Texas Pan American and University of Texas
Brownsville's Nano-at-the-Border Program in order to broaden the impact of the initiative to this historically under-represented region.

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