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State Leaders Showcase Oakton's Tech Lab, Herald $500,000 State Grant

The money bought specialized equipment that will give students nanotechnology lab time, and prepare them for jobs expected to open in this exploding field.

Troy Blume is a nanotechnology lab assistant at Oakton Community College.
Troy Blume is a nanotechnology lab assistant at Oakton Community College.

By James Chase, special to Patch.com

Small was big last week at the Illinois Science and Technology Park in Skokie.  

Local and state officials toured the Oakton Community College nanotechnology lab and training center Dec. 11 at an event hosted by the Nanotechnology Education, Employment and Economic Development Initiative (NE3I), and acknowledged a $500,000 state grant that has made the lab possible.

Housed at the Illinois Science and Technology Park, NE3I is a partnership among the Village of Skokie, Oakton Community College, the Illinois Science + Technology Park (IS+TP) and NSERVE, a consortium of nine north suburban high schools in the Oakton Community College district. The program provides training for high school and community college students and faculty to operate the laboratory’s nanotech equipment, while developing curriculum for a four-course nano technician certification program at Oakton. 

Nanotechnology is the study and manipulation of extremely small particles at the molecular and atomic levels. Advances in nanotechnology can be applied across all other scientific fields, including biology, chemistry and physics.

The grant announcement and tour of the new lab featured remarks from Skokie Mayor George Van Dusen; Margaret B. Lee, President, Oakton Community College; Michael Rosen, Senior Vice President for New Business Development, Forest City Science + Technology Group; Adam Pollet, Director, Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCE); and Mark Harris, President and CEO, Illinois Science & Technology Coalition.

“For Illinois to continue attracting high-skill, high-wage jobs, we must prepare our students for careers in emerging fields like nanotechnology,” said Director Pollet. “Illinois maintains a strong position nationally in nanotechnology, and programs like these will ensure our workforce remains competitive in this field for years to come.”

The lab is housed at the IS+TP, which is home to many advanced technology companies, and sits just a few blocks away from Oakton’s Skokie campus. Nanotechnology companies represented at the IS+TP serve on the industry advisory board to Oakton’s nano technician certification program, and have committed to providing accredited internships that will serve as the final course in the program.

"I'd like to congratulate all of the NE3I partners on a superb addition to the fast-growing technology sector here in Skokie," said Mayor Van Dusen. "The success of the Illinois Science + Technology Park shows that emerging fields like nanotechnology will play a major role in our economic future, and I'm proud to see Skokie and the State of Illinois continuing to lead the way."

During the tour demonstration of the nanotech lab, Oakton faculty noted that some of the instruments have price tags in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The state grant allowed Oakton to purchase state-of-the-art equipment that many universities don’t allow students to access until the graduate level.

In February, Oakton will train high school and community college faculty from across the country through a program sponsored by the National Science Foundation. Faculty who complete the program will be able to remotely access the lab’s equipment in real-time for use in nanotechnology classes at their own institutions.

“Oakton and our NE3I partners are grateful for this crucial investment, which made our world-class nanotechnology laboratory possible,” said Lee, president of Oakton Community College. “This facility will serve as a valuable asset not only for the Skokie community, but for economic development statewide.”

The state funds for the nanotech lab were subgranted to Oakton by the Illinois Science and Technology Institute (ISTI), an organization established by the Illinois Science & Technology Coalition (ISTC) to advance STEM education by creating partnerships between the private sector, research universities and the State of Illinois.

By 2015, the global market for nanotechnology products is expected to be valued at more than $26 billion, and the industry will require two million workers and approximately six million supporting positions worldwide. According to the ISTC, Illinois has developed a strong presence the field with more than 50 companies in the state performing nanotechnology work – the tenth highest number in the nation. Illinois also ranks eighth in the nation in high-tech employment, and seventh in academic and government research.

“Advances in nanotechnology have the potential to revolutionize every sector of our economy, from healthcare to clean water and energy,” said the ISTC’s Harris. “By connecting educators, businesses and government, we can make sure these advances – and the jobs that come with them – are developed here in Illinois.”

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