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MIT Unveils Nanovation Partnership

$90 Million to Further Research in Photonics

By Matthew F. Palmer

Miami-based Nanovation Technologies Inc. announced Friday it will provide $90 million over six years to establish a center at MIT for the research of light-based photonic technologies, which could make communications hundreds of times faster.

Nanovation’s contributions will fund a new laboratory on the MIT campus and research at MIT’s Materials Processing Center. The goal of the research is to develop photonic devices that will connect computers and telephones to high speed fiber optics.

Nanovation’s president and CEO G. Robert Tatum said in a printed report, “Nanovation’s relationship with MIT is part of our strategy to form partnerships with the nation’s best universities to expand research that will allow the telecommunication industry to develop and commercialize new photonic technologies.”

Nanovation has already built the nation’s first laboratory dedicated to nanophotonics research through a partnership with Northwestern University.

The MIT project “will allow students and faculty to solve real world problems,” said Melanie Ofenloch, Nanovation’s Vice President of Public Relations.

Tatum and MIT Vice President and Dean for Research J. David Litster will oversee the joint research. The new laboratory will bring together students and faculty from the Departments of Materials Science and Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Chemical Engineering, and Physics, as well as Nanovation employees.

MIT will be free to research and publish results under its agreement with Nanovation. Patents will be jointly owned if the product was created by both MIT and Nanovation researchers or by Nanovation employees through use of MIT facilities, according to a press release. Any development made solely by MIT or Nanovation will be fully owned by its creators.

Goal: accelerate the Internet

The ultimate goal of the project will be to develop photonic technologies to increase the bandwidth of telecommunications devices, possibly boosting their speeds by hundreds of times.

In addition, research will go into microphotonic and nanophotonic devices, which in the future could be thousands of times smaller than current technology.

“Microphotonics is the next revolutionary technology,” said Professor Lionel C. Kimerling, director of the MIT Materials Processing Center. “Light-based technologies are the logical, cost-effective way to meet these demands [for bandwidth].”

Fiber optics have already greatly increased the speed of the Internet over long distances. Slower copper and coaxial wires, however, still carry information locally.

Besides telecommunications, photonic research has applications in circuitry and computing.

Long line of industry partnerships

The Nanovation deal is the latest in many corporate partnerships with MIT. Other companies who have partnerships with the Institute include Ford Motor Company, Merrill Lynch, DuPont, and Microsoft.

“This research center is an example of the emerging partnerships between industry and universities that will drive much of American innovation in the post-Cold War world”, said MIT Provost Robert A. Brown in a printed report.

In his annual report released last week, President Charles M. Vest cited the need for corporate investments as a way to offset decreasing federal funds.

Vest also wrote how such ventures could improve education. “We should vigorously develop our programs and contributions to this new world of innovation and commerce, but do so in the context of our fundamental values in scholarship and education,” Vest said in his report.

Vest recognized, however, that working with private industries could lead to problems with intellectual property, mission, and conflict of interest. Vest’s report said that new guidelines have been written to avoid and manage any conflicts.

“I don’t foresee problems,” Ofenloch said. “I foresee opportunities.”

Professor Moungi G. Bawendi, a member of MIT’s Microphotonics Center, said MIT was not selling out to corporations. “It’s a standard research agreement, same as with all corporations.”