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Ohio Third Frontier Funds Awarded for Polymer Nanotechnology Research

Third Frontier Funds Awarded to University of Dayton and Partners Will Drive High-Tech Research, Boost Ohio Industry

For the University of Dayton and its Research Institute, the $22.5 million Ohio Third Frontier award announced today for a Wright Center of Innovation in polymer nanotechnology research will put the “crowning jewel” in the university’s multi-tiered effort to help bring an emerging technology to market and boost Ohio’s economy.

At a news conference at the Scotts Co. in Marysville, Lt. Gov. Bruce Johnson presented the award to Ohio State University, the University of Dayton Research Institute and the University of Akron – partners in the Center for Multifunctional Polymer Nanomaterials and Devices (CMPND, pronounced “compound”). It’s an apt acronym for a program that seeks to comprehensively cultivate the potential of advanced composites technology by exploiting Ohio’s strengths in polymers, said Brian Rice, a UDRI polymer and composites researcher who will serve as the nanocomposites coordinator of the program.

“Ohio has unmatched strengths and industry capabilities in polymers,” Rice said. “Ohio ranks number one in the country in the manufacture of polymer-based products, and Applied Sciences Inc. – one of the world’s largest suppliers of nanoparticles – is in Cedarville. Akron is one of the leading centers in polymers, with UA ranked number two in the U.S. in polymer research. UDRI has a great reputation in aerospace materials and is ranked number two in the nation in materials research, with OSU ranked number three. Plus there’s a good bit of research happening at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. There’s a real synergy here to draw from.”

CMPND covers three technical areas – polymer nanocomposites, directed by UD and UDRI; polymer photonics, directed by Akron; and biosensors, directed by OSU. “This truly will be an integrated effort, because all three universities will be working in all three technical areas,” Rice said.

In addition to the three lead institutions, more than 50 large and small companies – including GE Aircraft Engines, Goodrich, Boeing and Honda – as well as other Ohio universities, research and related organizations have signed on to provide more than $80 million in cash and in-kind support for the program.

“What’s exciting is that this program will have an immediate impact for Ohio industry, with benefits to the polymer industry in year one,” Rice said. “Other elements of the program will be more research focused up front, with some coming to fruition in five years and others in 10 years. Planning for near- and long-term commercialization will help keep us at the leading edge.”

Staying ahead of the game is important to the well-being of Ohio’s economy, Rice added. “Polymer technology is Ohio’s number one industry and provides more jobs than any other industry in the state. But Ohio is losing jobs as companies are shifting their operations overseas. When enough of those jobs are lost, the whole industry will start to collapse. But with polymers nanotechnology, we can develop a market niche – something unique that can’t be shifted out of the country.”

Sharell Mikesell, executive director for the Ohio Polymer Strategy Council, said CMPND will drive the creation of thousands of jobs and reinforce Ohio’s existing 140,000-plus employment base in polymers. Mikesell will co-direct the CMPND program with Jim Lee, the Helen C. Kurtz Professor of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering at Ohio State and director of the National Science Foundation Center for Advanced Polymer and Composite Engineering.

The $22.5 million for CMPND is the largest WCI grant awarded to date, Mikesell said. Of the total award, $7 million will be for research in the Miami Valley directed by UD and partners Wright State University and the National Composite Center.

The program is important to UD and its Research Institute because it caps several stages of state-funded research to develop nanocomposites technology from the ground up, Rice said. “First we built the NEST (nano-engineering, science and technology) center to evaluate materials at the nano level. Then we developed methods for treating the nanomaterials to make them more compatible with polymers. Next we found a way to uniformly disperse nanomaterial in polymer. Now, with this WCI award, we’ll be able to create marketable products.”

“In a nutshell, we’ve been able to analyze particles, make them polymer-friendly and put them into polymers that will now be used to make parts. That’s four different programs funded by the state, creating a research-to-production chain that underscores the mission of the Third Frontier. This WCI grant is the crown jewel of everything we’ve built thus far, and I think it shows we’re being good stewards of the state’s money.”

As composites coordinator for the overall effort, Rice will serve as the bridge between research and industry for commercialization efforts. UD’s new endowed chair in nanomaterials, Liming Dai, will serve as the University’s site manager, responsible for coordinating collaborative research among the three universities.

The National Composite Center in Dayton will play a large role in the commercialization of nanocomposites, which are lightweight but strong materials that can replace aluminum and steel in cars and aircraft for greater fuel efficiency, Rice said. Key target industries include aerospace, automotive, sporting goods, electronics and medical devices.

Potential products coming out of the photonics area include polymer films that could be used to make lightweight, flexible displays. “Imagine a map on a piece of plastic that you could roll up and take with you, but that could also display varying locations as needed, just like a computer monitor,” Rice said. Potential products from the bio side could include sensors that will scan blood for viruses.

Wright Center of Innovation grants are designed to support large-scale, world-class research and technology development platforms to accelerate the pace of Ohio commercialization. Centers are to be collaborations among Ohio higher education institutions, nonprofit research organizations and companies in the areas of advanced materials, bioscience, power and propulsion, information technology and instruments, controls and electronics.

For media interviews, contact Brian Rice at 937-229-2519, Mickey McCabe, director of the University of Dayton Research Institute at 937-229-2113, and Sharell Mikesell at 330-289-2595.

May 10, 2005

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