University of Oregon students crossing a grassy oval in the Lorry I. Lokey Science Complex this spring will be surprised to learn that, under their feet, researchers are operating millions of dollars worth of delicate high-tech equipment to find answers that could help propel Oregon to the forefront of the fast-growing nanotechnology industry.
Dedicated on Tuesday, the new underground Lorry I. Lokey Laboratories building is a signature research center associated with the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute (ONAMI), a consortium that includes the University of Oregon, Oregon Health & Science University, Oregon State University, Portland State University, Pacific Northwest National Laboratories and the region's high-technology companies.
The facility's special capabilities will advance work related to curing human diseases such as cancer, developing cheaper solar devices, cleaning up water and the environment, and creating yet-to-be imagined products and technologies. "Nanoscience is opening up whole new research worlds that until now have been invisible," said donor Lorry I. Lokey. "I can't wait to see all the new discoveries that will be coming out of Oregon."
Construction was funded by private gifts and $9.5 million in bonds and lottery funds approved by the 2003 Oregon Legislature and issued in 2005. In addition to Lokey, major donors are the Alice C. Tyler Perpetual Trust and Loomis Group of San Francisco. The first new building for the College of Arts and Sciences since 1990, the Lokey building is part of almost $250 million worth of university construction - completed or underway - made possible by Campaign Oregon: Transforming Lives.
Lokey, 81, is a journalist-turned-philanthropist who sold his global Business Wire news service to Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway in 2006. His gifts to the UO now total $132 million, including $25 million for construction of the new $76 million Integrative Science Complex that comprises the new building and a second building scheduled to break ground in 2010.
During the dedication Tuesday, UO President Dave Frohnmayer read a message from Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski congratulating Oregon’s high-tech community, ONAMI and the university for creating what many experts say is the optimal setting for nanoscience research.
"This facility is an example of the state's innovation-based approach to economic development and the crucial link of higher education research to the economy," Kulongoski wrote. "Together, the state, the University of Oregon and ONAMI are not only creating the seeds for the economy of the future, but they are enhancing Oregon's economy today." The nanotechnology boom is expected to become a $3 trillion industry capable of generating 20 million highly-skilled jobs worldwide within the next 15 years.
David Chen, chair of the Oregon Innovation Council, said the Lokey building's capabilities provide the region with a "significant time and infrastructure advantage" in the global race for innovation at atomic and molecular scales. "ONAMI researchers and corporate partners will now have unprecedented access to one of the world’s largest and deepest collections of state-of-the-art equipment and technologies," Chen said.
The Lokey labs will contain more than 20 ultra-high-precision metrology, probe, lithography and bio-optics instruments not generally available except at major scientific facilities. Their value, taken together, will easily be double the cost of constructing the building.
"We are proud to unveil this unique, shared research facility," Frohnmayer said. “The norm at universities has been for precious research instruments to be siloed away in departments or in the labs of the professors who wrote the grants for them. I am proud to say the University of Oregon is completely different. Our faculty decided to bring many of the most powerful tools in the world and the expertise needed to realize their full potential into this building so that researchers in all areas, from art history to zebrafish, will see things with new eyes."
Rich Linton, UO vice president for research and graduate studies, said the building's exceptional site and innovative mechanical engineering make it one of the world's "quietest" nanoscience research centers according to recent tests. A report by Colin Gordon Associates confirmed the facility is two to four times quieter than the advanced standard for vibration required by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
"We were gifted by Mother Nature with an extraordinary contribution in the form of the bedrock only 17 feet below ground surface," Linton said. "This means that for very reasonable construction costs and through innovative design, we have a world-class facility that minimizes noise and vibrations to serve as the literal foundation for science and technology breakthroughs at the nanometer scale."
In this case, "quietness" means ultra-sensitive research tools are so well shielded from sources of vibration, such as dump trucks rumbling down nearby streets, that scientists can achieve new levels of control over bits of matter as small as atoms. One instrument, an atom-resolving microscope named "Titan" by its Hillsboro, Ore.-based manufacturer, FEI Co., weighs as much as two cars yet is as fragile as the most delicate camera ever made.
"This new building strengthens Oregon’s leadership role in the global race to develop nanotechnology," said Don Kania, FEI president and chief executive officer.
Taken together, the building and equipment comprise what UO and ONAMI officials describe as "the nation’s first high-tech extension service," Frohnmayer said. Scientists anywhere in the world can send their samples to the Lokey facility and watch live via a secure Web connection while samples are processed on ONAMI’s NanoNet. Revenue generated by user fees will help underwrite operation costs of the facility.
The building also reserves prime space for industry partners. The first occupant of the Partnership Labs is Voxtel Inc., of Beaverton, Ore., an award-winning maker of high-performance photonic devices used for a wide range of government, industrial and scientific markets including space applications. "This unique combination of resources allows Voxtel to conduct world-class research, to innovate, and to rapidly develop and market new technology," said Voxtel President George Williams.
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said the new Lokey building is exactly what he had in mind for Oregon when he wrote the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act. "This cutting-edge facility represents a tremendous addition to the students and faculty at the University of Oregon as well as Oregon's nanotechnology community," he said.
U.S. Rep. David Wu, D-Ore., joined Wyden in addressing attendants at the dedication. "It is especially gratifying to see that these facilities will be broadly available to support university and industry partners and to serve the growing cadre of enterprises in Oregon focused on the development and commercialization of nanotechnology," he said.
The Lokey building and courtyard above it were designed by SRG Partnership Inc. and constructed by Lease Crutcher Lewis. Frohnmayer said the design reflects a commitment to preserving existing open space on the historic campus.