Danville Community College and Luna Innovations Incorporated have entered into a partnership to provide nanotechnology technician training to Southside Virginia residents. The partnership is being funded through a three-year, $638,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, which the NSF announced award of recently to DCC.
“This funding will help develop a curriculum that will not only provide students with technical skills, but includes hands-on experience in using scientific instruments,” Dr. Kent Murphy, Chairman and CEO of Luna Innovations Inc., noted. “The new program will aid in building a workforce that will be ready to work in this promising new technology field.”
Headquartered in Roanoke, VA, Luna opened its nanoWorks division in Danville in 2005 in a former tobacco warehouse that has been renovated into an ultramodern 24,000-square-foot manufacturing and research development facility.
The company’s competitive edge comes from its technology in carbon nanomaterials. Luna has an exclusive license on a material known as Trimetasphere® , which is being developed for applications in the fields of medical, energy, and defense. Luna is the only company in the world to manufacture this molecule.
In receiving the NSF award, DCC President Dr. Carlyle Ramsey stated, “We are truly proud that the National Science Foundation recognizes our region as being a leader in the exciting science of nanotechnology. The training programs we will develop through this funding will provide promising career opportunities on a local level for displaced workers as well as students graduating from our local high schools.”
The new nanotechnology track will be part of DCC’s Advanced Manufacturing Technology program, which currently offers Associate of Applied Science degrees in Manufacturing Engineering Technology and Polymer Manufacturing Technology. Both of those degree tracks were developed under prior funding from the NSF. The latest award will enable DCC students to earn AAS degrees in the Nanotechnology Technician track.
Through DCC’s partnership with the University of Virginia on this grant, students graduating from DCC’s nanotech program will have the choice of continuing on to pursue advanced degrees in the state university system, or they can choose to go to work directly in the nanotechnology field as a technician.
“The curricula will focus heavily on laboratory skills and associated scientific theories applicable to the area of nanoscience and nanotechnology,” commented Dr. Mukesh Chhajer, who, as Associate Professor of Physics at DCC, will serve as the NSF’s Principal Investigator to develop this program. Mukesh will be supported by Dr. Brian Holloway, Director of the Nanomaterials Research Group at Luna, and Jerry Franklin, DCC’s Director of Manufacturing & Technical Services. Both Holloway and Franklin will serve as co-Principal Investigators.
“Our goal is to fully prepare students to work in a nanotechnology lab, thoroughly familiarizing them with the operation of such items as scanning electron microscopes, atomic force microscopes, photospectrometers, and other high-end equipment found in nanotech labs,” Franklin said. “A benefit to this program is that the students’ understanding of this equipment and of detailed lab procedures and R&D; (Research and Development) protocol will not only prepare them for jobs in nanotech labs, but pretty much any advanced quality or product testing lab throughout the manufacturing industry.”
To that end, when DCC was preparing to submit its plans to the NSF, 10 local manufacturers signed on as project partners, submitting a joint letter saying that their companies have a strong need for the types of skills students will learn in the new program. The companies also said they plan to consider providing internship opportunities to DCC’s nanotechnology students and to also consider hiring program graduates. These 10 local employers were joined by 21 nanotechnology companies throughout the commonwealth of Virginia as well as North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park area, who also signed on to be partners.
Another significant project partner is the Danville Science Center, which will develop summer nanotechnology workshops for secondary school teachers to help extend the nanotechnology program’s reach into local middle and high schools.
The program calls for the educational materials developed in this project to later be applied toward development of a national industry certification program. DCC’s goal is to become an authorized training and testing institution, where technicians from across the southeastern United States could participate to earn prestigious industry-recognized nanotechnician certifications.