The KY nanoNET (KYNN) is a five-year National Science Foundation (NSF) sponsored initiative for the development of a statewide infrastructure network and support system for the specific advancement of micro/nanotechnology and the many fields which utilize this pervasive technology. The goals of the KY nanoNET are 1) to better coordinate the many existing micro/nano labs and resources scattered throughout the Commonwealth of Kentucky by developing a comprehensive web-based network and portal system (i.e. KY nanoNET), 2) develop a portal-based shared software program (KRUNCH or Kentucky Research Users of Nano CADtools Hub) as a key component of KYNN which allows researchers across the state access to a wide variety of expensive commercial TCAD tools for general micro/nano/MEMS research and education, 3) develop a centralized physical core facility (KORE or Kentucky Optical REsources) for the generation of custom photomasks to effectively serve the needs of all micro/nano researchers/educators in Kentucky, 4) develop an effective educational outreach program to grow the interest in micro/nanotechnology and MST (math/science/technology) at both the university and K-12 levels, and 5) collaborate with industry and state government to promote micro/nanotechnology through the development of programs that promise to impact Kentucky’s lagging high-tech economy. NSF projects the field of nanotechnology to explode from a $400B industry today to a $2.5T industry by 2020. To accommodate that tremendous level of growth, it is predicted that 2,000,000 nanotechnologists will need to be trained by 2020, a hundred fold increase in the number today (20,000). The KYNN hopes to assist our state in the participation of that economic growth opportunity.
Activities and Successes
The KY nanoNET (KYNN) is housed at the University of Louisville Micro/NanoTechnology Center (MNTC) and is directed by Prof. Kevin Walsh with the assistance of a fulltime coordinator, Ana Sanchez. The KYNN consists of 17 “micro/nano” nodes located at 7 universities within the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The list of nodes includes core facilities at the University of Louisville, University of Kentucky, Western Kentucky University, Eastern Kentucky University, Morehead State University, Murray State University and Sullivan University. With a mature and active website, the KYNN provides valuable information and networking assets for both academia and industry in the state interested in microtechnology, nanotechnology and MEMS (microelectromechanical systems). The KYNN began in 2007 with a five-year $900K award from the NSF EPSCoR (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research) program. Activities of the KYNN include the following: 1) establishment of 17 micro/nano nodes located throughout 7 universities and colleges in the state, 2) the sponsorship of an annual Micro/Nano regional conference, 3) the production of approximately 200 photomasks per year for micro/nano researchers in Kentucky, 4) the offering of a comprehensive suite of micro/nano software tools used by over 100 KY researchers, 5) the development of a searchable on-line data base for both equipment and researchers in the state, 6) an active outreach program which involves over 500 K-12 kids touring the UofL cleanroom a year, 7) a formal collaboration with the Louisville Science Center for a Nanotechnology Exhibit and annual participation in Nanodays which reaches over 2000 kids a year. Specific successes of the KYNN at University of Louisville during the KYNN era include 5 micro/nano startups, over 20 patents in the micro/nano area, and an average of $5M of external funding per year which uses the UofL cleanroom core facility.
Unlike other nanotechnology RSLs, the KY nanoNET’s goal is not solely focused on growing or attracting nanotechnology industry to the state. Instead, the KYNN was established to link and network all the nanotechnology academic/research efforts in Kentucky so that all users, including industry, can better leverage the valuable resources available in the state. Central to this mission is educational outreach. One success story the KYNN is most proud of is its collaboration with our state’s Science Center. With the help of the KYNN, the Louisville Science Center (LSC) has been awarded a permanent exhibit in the area of Nanotechnology from the NSF. They were chosen as 1 of only 10 science centers in the nation for this exhibit. Complementary to that effort has been the KYNN’s participation with the LSC in the annual event called Nanodays in which over 2,000 kids visit the center over a weekend period to receive exposure to the field of nanotechnology. The KYNN and LSC also jointly sponsored a nanotechnology IMAX film called “Molecules to the Max” which was shown to over 10,000 children and their parents over a 6-month period.