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Governor Beebe's Weekly Column and Radio address: Big Potential in Tiny Particles


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Nanotechnology, which is used to build structures that are smaller than subatomic particles, is an exciting, cutting-edge field of scientific study. It also represents a major economic opportunity for Arkansas. That opportunity increased this past week as officials at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock dedicated a new, state-of-the-art research building. This building houses the Center for Integrative Nanotechnology Sciences, where research will not only create jobs in Arkansas, but could also improve the quality of life for all mankind.

Most of us are already using nanotechnology; we just may not realize it because nano materials are so tiny. The thickness of a sheet of newspaper, for example, measures 100,000 nanometers. Products like eyeglasses, cosmetics and cell phones all utilize this science. And its application is growing, thanks to research being conducted at institutions worldwide, including several in Arkansas. Scientists at UALR are focused on research that, among other things, could someday isolate and destroy cancer cells with amazing precision.

As each new discovery finds practical applications, the economic impact of nanotechnology grows. Projections show that nanotechnologies could have a $2.4 trillion global economic impact within three years. In less than 10 years, it is projected that six-million nanotechnology workers will be needed worldwide.

To attract those future jobs, Arkansas must have a workforce capable of keeping up with the technology. This is just one of the goals of our initiative to emphasize public-school instruction in science, technology, engineering and math, otherwise known as the STEM subjects. This initiative will give more students the solid foundation to pursue studies in fields like nanotechnology when they arrive at college. But they don't have to wait until college. One of the goals of the Center for Integrative Nanotechnology Sciences is to inspire student interest and involvement earlier on, through programs like a Nano Academy for high-school students and internships for undergraduates.

While we don't know everywhere the research being conducted at Arkansas's nanotechnology institutions will take us, we've already seen results arrive within our borders. The Center at UALR has already generated two Arkansas-based companies. NanoMech, an internationally known company based in Springdale, grew directly out of Nanoscience programs at the U of A in Fayetteville. Its employees now make an average of $41 an hour.

Last year, five Arkansas academic institutions signed an agreement with the National Center for Toxicological Research in Jefferson County. The resulting joint research, educational training, collaborations and outreach in support of the Food & Drug Administration at NCTR will further develop Arkansas's niche in bio-nano advances.

The United States has invested more than any other nation in nanotechnology, and Arkansas has kept pace. The leaders of our research institutions will help produce the next generation of American scientists. As their promising work continues in nanotechnology, you won't see their innovations with the naked eye, but we'll all see the positive results their work has for Arkansas and our people.

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