Sandia National Laboratories, in Livermore, Calif., is even creating a Center for Integrated Nanotechnology to focus its efforts, said Mark Allen, a manager in the lab's technology commercialization office. The center would have facilities at both Sandia and at Los Alamos National Laboratory, in New Mexico, he told a session at the NanoSpace 2002 conference.
"We're trying to create a 'mega user facility' that will be attractive to industry, universities and other potential collaborators," Allen said. "We'll have major projects funded by the Department of Energy, but we will also be seeking partnerships ... where we can achieve better results for all parties."
The CINT buildings at both labs would have the fabrication and measurement equipment necessary for nanoscience, Allen said. This burgeoning area of discovery has researchers manipulate matter at the nanometer scale -- a nanometer is to an inch what an inch is to 400 miles.
The buildings, which will lie outside the labs' perimeters, would also be a point of entry for researchers wishing to use more specialized equipment inside the fence, Allen said.
"For example, both laboratories do a lot of computer simulation activity," Allen told the conference. "We're hoping that by creating a gateway, all scientists interested in the nanotechnology area will have a doorway to enable collaboration."
Sandia has plenty of experience with such efforts, Allen said, pointing out the hundreds of cooperative research and development agreements the lab has signed with companies across the country. Examples of the lab hiring out its unique capabilities have outpaced those agreements the past few years, he said.
The CINT facilities should be fully operational next year, Allen said, and until then the labs will coordinate their efforts through a "virtual facility."
NASA also is looking to revamp its research partnerships, said John James, assistant director of the Technology Transfer and Commercialization Office at Johnson Space Center in Houston. The agency wants to ensure its efforts will help its various major enterprises, such as space exploration, he told the conference.
"We see that nanotechnology is really important to each of the enterprises," James said. "Lighter-weight materials coming out of nanotech are very important, and we want to shift to this approach of going out and finding where the opportunities are and working them back towards the enterprises. That helps us leverage our research and development money."
Finding products on the market also can hold down the cost of maintaining projects, James said. Much of the nanotech-related work NASA deals with involves funding from the Small Business Innovative Research program, he said, so the agency hopes to work with promising nanotech entrepreneurs on fine-tuning their SBIR proposals for maximum support.
The conference, sponsored by the Institute for Advanced Multidisciplinary Research, NASA and several universities, was set up to help NASA and the research community work out joint goals for nanotechnology.