Cleanroom at SUNY Albany's NanoTech Complex

Cleanroom at SUNY Albany's NanoTech Complex. Photo courtesy the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering.

It’s a good thing I took a wrong turn on the way to Albany International Airport a few weeks back. Turning off the highway prematurely, I came face to face with the NanoTech Complex at the State University of New York.

I was amazed at how big this facility is: some half-dozen buildings adding up to 800,000 square feet, with more being built, I found out later. The place will enclose 1.5 million square feet of cleanrooms, laboratories, offices, and classrooms by 2017. “Holy, shit,” I said out loud to my friend who was in the car with me. “There’s gotta be a story in this place!”

Actually lots of stories. For starters, this Web piece for Popular Mechanics. And I already have more on the way.

What makes this place special is not just the sheer scale of the activity here, but the way in which the work of building very small machines, microchips, and bioelectronic devices is getting done. The head of the place, Greek Lebanese Alain Kaloyeros, presents it as a kind of nanotech Switzerland, neutral ground for otherwise competing interests.

Here, major manufacturers, including Intel, Samsung, and GlobalFoundries, the university, and a multitude of government research organizations, come together to share this $14 billion resource. And it’s the only facility of its kind that’s based at a university, actively training the next generation of technologists through the university’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering.

Besides creating next generation computer chips, embedded sensors, and the like, the emphasis at the Complex is on manufacturability. Steve Janack, head of communications at the Complex, tells me:

“It’s one thing to develop a gee-whiz product in the lab, it’s quite another to develop something that can be  manufactured efficiently and repeatedly, and that’s exactly what our focus is here.”

In a couple of visits to the Complex so far, I’ve gotten tantalizing glimpses of breakthroughs in progress. Oh yeah, lots more stories. And it’s practically in my own back yard, just an hour’s drive from my house. I’ll be back.