Nanoscience and Arkansas’ economy

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 122 views 

The critical relationship between education and economic growth is demonstrated in its purest form when academic scholarship creates new technologies that carry the potential for new jobs and industry. We've seen this happen when research conducted at colleges and universities evolves into new businesses with new products created by new employees. We're seeing this in Arkansas, right now.

In 2002, a Springdale-based nanotechnology company, NanoMech Inc., was born directly out of the nanoscience programs at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. Since then, the company has used university research on subatomic particles to bring several innovative products to market.

Recently, one of those products, TuffTek, won the Research & Development 100 Award. TuffTek is a coating that improves the heat resistance, cutting precision and endurance of cutting tools. The new product's nano-engineered technology will extend equipment life and reduce operating costs for makers of automotive and aerospace components. It was chosen by the editors of R&D Magazine, which recognizes the most technologically significant products introduced into the marketplace.

Previous winners of the coveted award, known in the research world as the "Oscar of Innovation," include the flash cube, the automated teller and the fax machine.

There's an important distinction, however, between Nanomech's products and some of the previous award winners. NanoMech's products are designed to replace inefficient existing technologies in manufacturing and energy. And both of those sectors of the U.S. economy need such innovation to stay competitive globally.

Manufacturing helped make the U.S. a world power, but its contribution to gross domestic product has dwindled as other countries have outpaced us in the industry. Energy independence and efficiency have also become extremely important in light of rising costs and national-security concerns.

Nanomanufactured goods had a $147 billion global economic impact in 2007. As each new discovery finds practical applications, that impact will increase, and so will the number of jobs that research creates. Estimates predict that by 2015, nanotechnologies will make a $3.1 trillion impact. And in less than 10 years, it is projected that six-million nanotechnology workers will be needed worldwide.

Arkansas is poised to benefit from this industry's rise, and not just through NanoMech. Arkansas universities have vibrant nanoscience programs that have already spawned other new business ventures. Like NanoMech, those businesses demonstrate how university research can be commercialized to provide high-paying jobs in Arkansas, keeping some of our best and brightest at home while drawing many others to our State.

While the statewide link between education and jobs is undeniable, it's important to remember that this connection applies to our individual lives, as well. People who pursue higher education have more job prospects and greater earnings potential. And for Arkansans who choose fields of study applicable to the nanoscience industry, the job prospects and earnings potential look extremely promising.

Today's economy continues to change and evolve at a dizzying pace, but we are at the forefront of an industry with the potential to change our State, and our national economy, forever.