Obama Visits UAlbany Nanotech Center


President Barack Obama and New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo

President Barack Obama came to the College of Nanoscale Sciences and Engineering at the University at Albany Tuesday touting his economic policies. The 21-minute speech encompassed what sounded like a campaign speech but was billed by the Obama Administration as an official visit.

“Now I want what’s happening in Albany to happen all across the country,” Obama said to the delight of state university officials. “I want to create more opportunities for hardworking Americans to start making things again, and selling them all over the world stamped with those proud words: Made in America. That’s the goal.”

But what exactly is nanoscale science? The easiest way this was explained to me many years ago was, that the work being accomplished at the University at Albany, is so minute that it is like being on Mars and aiming to hit a nail on its head on Earth with a laser beam. It is this technology that helps make the products we purchase smaller and smaller, or with more memory capacity, through developing technology chips and wafers.

The President’s pitch was about the economy, using the Nanoscale College as the backdrop for the great achievements America can produce.

“After years of undercutting the competition, now it’s getting more expensive to do business in places like China,” Obama continued. “Wages are going up. Shipping costs are going up. And meanwhile, American workers are getting more and more efficient. Companies located here are becoming more and more competitive. So for a lot of businesses, it’s now starting to make sense to bring jobs back home. Half of America’s largest companies are thinking of moving their manufacturing operations from China back to the United States. That’s good news because even when we can’t make things cheaper than other countries because of their wage rates, we can always make them better. That’s who we are. That’s what America is all about. You have more to offer and have some of the best workers in the world. You’ve got an outstanding university.”

Governor Andrew Cuomo introduced Obama, saying, “Mr. President, Albany is where the Hudson River meets the Great Erie Canal; the 1817 innovation that made New York the global marketplace that it is and drove the nation west to commerce. The Erie Canal drove our economy. As we look to the next economic driver it is fitting that nanotech is birthed at this very same junction. I can promise you this, because of your leadership, this state is not going backwards, Mr. President, this state is going forward.”

There was plenty of looking backward to how this complex became so massive while the items these folks are making are so small.

From State Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox: “As chairman of SUNY’s Finance and Community College Committees and of its Construction Fund during the period of the NanoCollege’s development, I witnessed its effective and efficient use of state funds and facilities and of SUNY’s higher-education platform to foster economic growth.”

“Then Governor George Pataki announced the Center of Excellence in Nanoelectronics and Nanotechnology at SUNY Albany in his 2001 State of the State Address. Since then, the facility has grown to become the world’s foremost innovator in nanotechnology instruction, invention and investment. In the fall of 2004, the center was upgraded to the present College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering – which by year’s end issued the world’s first Ph.D.s in nanoscience.”

“This success didn’t come from making one big bet on what politicians guessed would be ‘the industry of the future.’ It came from gradually nurturing an education and basic-research facility, with the private sector and market realities providing regular reality- checks,” said Cox.

That was a slam against Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver who had his own take on the beginning of this mammoth complex.

“It is sort of a culmination, a recognition of all the work that’s been done since 1995 when I invested the first $5 million anybody ever invested in the facility in order to create a clean room to begin to do research on chips at the NanoCenter,” Silver said.

But those who remember this from the start in 1993, realize that former Governor Mario Cuomo designated the University at Albany as one of the first centers for advanced technology and provided a $10 million grant.

Meanwhile, Pataki and Silver keep arguing over whom did what in the beginning of this success story, while the former governor sits quietly on the sidelines allowing his son, the current governor, to handle the imaging of his father’s legacy.