CORVALLIS, Ore. - Oregon State University and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy today agreed to form a research and educational center, called the Microproducts Breakthrough Institute, to develop and help market advances in the emerging and highly promising field of microtechnology. The institute should help spawn a new and important industry in the Pacific Northwest, officials say, based on small, lightweight, and more efficient chemical, energy and biological systems, for both commercial and non-commercial use.

Millions of dollars in research, important scientific discoveries, new start-up companies and more jobs for residents of the Pacific Northwest may soon emerge from this initiative, the organizers say.

"This joint venture links two premier leaders in microsystems technology," said Landis Kannberg, technical network leader for energy with PNNL and co-director of the new institute.

"PNNL and OSU bring unique capabilities and experienced teams that will advance the science of microtechnology, as well as provide educational opportunities through the university and promote regional economic development by commercializing new products," Kannberg said. "We're extremely excited about what the future may hold." The two institutions have been working together in this and other fields since 1998, already teaming up on more than $7 million in microsystems research and development. The new institute within five years could include a facility with 50-60 staff and a research budget of $20 million annually.

Ron Adams, dean of the OSU College of Engineering, said the work of the new institute will be a perfect fit with the existing Center for Microtechnology-based Energy, Chemical and Biological Systems, or MECS initiative at OSU. More than 20 OSU faculty from three colleges last year had $3.4 million of research underway using MECS technology to solve real-world problems, often through shrinking the size of energy devices and biochemical reactors to create engineering applications of profound significance.

"We're not working on technologies that are 20 years away from deployment," Adams said. "Our goal is to develop breakthrough products that lead to new business immediately. And this new institute is another key part of OSU's strategy of becoming one of the top 25 engineering programs in the U.S."

The institute itself, officials say, may revolutionize the way in which technology development is conducted by universities and federal laboratories such as PNNL.

"These very, very small systems are going to lead to some very, very big changes," said Walt Apley, associate laboratory director for PNNL. "This partnership is right in line with the goals of the Department of Energy's Office of Science."

DOE is committed to supporting fundamental research that develops new energy sources, makes best use of current energy resources, and mitigates waste resulting from energy production and use, Apley said.

The institute will combine OSU's nationally-recognized expertise in microchemical and thermal systems with the core programs at PNNL in microtechnology, and spur cutting-edge research, streamlined product commercialization, and advanced educational opportunities in one of the most promising new fields of technology. Any buildings constructed in association with the new institute will be at OSU.

"This is a tremendously exciting field of science and engineering and it quite literally will change how people live their lives," said Kevin Drost, a professor of mechanical engineering at OSU and co-director of the new institute. "But we're also going to reach out to private industry, bridge the gap between the academic laboratory and the marketplace, and have a concrete impact on the economy of the Pacific Northwest."

OSU and PNNL may seek other partners in some of the research, officials said, especially in private industry. Scientific breakthroughs will be patented and licensed to private companies for commercial development.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratories is a DOE research facility and delivers breakthrough science and technology in the areas of environment, energy, health, fundamental sciences and national security. Battelle, based in Columbus, Ohio, has operated PNNL for DOE since 1965.

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Ron Adams, 541-737-7722