Chips could lead to research park

FAIRBANKS -- Upcoming research at the University of Alaska Fairbanks through its high-tech partners could lead to commercial production and application of tiny computer chips. Economic development for Alaska is one goal for the federally funded project, as well as possible creation of a research park at UAF, according to the project leader.

"Our objective is to work on creating a broad technology base for Alaska," said Dave Woodall, director of the new Center for Nanosensor Technology.

Creation of the center, spurred by $11.5 million in federal funding, received approval from the University of Alaska Board of Regents in December.

"Our program is to design and build very tiny sensors that can be applied to Alaska needs," Woodall said.

Such sensors, called nanosensors, could be used to track animals and relay current data about them for research projects. They could also take measurements for environmental or pipeline uses and may have applications in mineral exploration, he said. The sensors could also be used to track products during shipment, gauging freshness of perishable foods.

The key to manufacturing nanosensors, the size of a human hair in cross-section, for commercial use is a process called fluidic self assembly, Woodall said. The process, developed and patented by Alien Technology of Morgan Hill, Calif., suspends nanosensors in a fluid and then "flows" them into designated receptor sites.

Nanosensors are expensive now, but research by UAF scientists will help reduce the cost and size of nanosensors to boost their commercial viability, he said.

Research work could begin soon. The first lab, about 5,000 square feet, will be in the Natural Sciences Building, and $5 million of lab equipment is to arrive in April, Woodall said.

photo: focus
02/03/2002 - 8:00pm