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Poised to ride the tech wave


ALBANY -- Imagine a computer that can make a billion calculations every billionth of a second, or a new process that will allow companies to produce twice the number of microchips at a time.

This is the next wave of nanotechnology, and with $4.8 billion of public and private investments announced Tuesday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the research and development required to make it reality will happen across upstate New York.

"This is a really, really big deal," Cuomo said at a gathering of his regional economic councils.

Much of the money will flow through the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, including $300 million for a new 250,000-square-foot facility called NanoFab West or NanoFab X already rising along Washington Avenue Extension.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and New York Power Authority will contribute a collective $100 million in energy subsidies for the venture. Unlike other deals, the companies involved will get no direct subsidies.

That building will house a new coalition of five companies called Global 450, comprised of Intel, IBM, Samsung, Global Foundries and TSMC. The effort will develop the next wave of chip-manufacturing on 450-millimeter wafers. These discs require heavier machines and have different needs for water and gases, but a single wafer contains twice as many chips as the 300-millimeter wafers currently being manufactured around the world, including on new fabs to be operated by GlobalFoundries in Malta.

Research on the transition will take place at the NanoCollege, as well as its satellite facilities in Canandaigua and SUNY IT in Utica, which will add 450 and 300 jobs respectively. The NanoCollege will see 800 new jobs, and 1,500 additional jobs related to the construction of the new building, according to Cuomo's office.

Concurrently, IBM committed to spend $3.6 billion on research spread through its labs at the NanoCollege as well as its own facilities in Yorktown Heights, East Fishkill and Poughkeepsie. The new investments should employ a total of 950 new people on what John Kelly, director of IBM Research, called the company's "home court."

Kelly explained that the company and other partners would research how to make components of computer chips smaller. Computers run using a series of binary switches; in early days, vacuum tubes the size of baseball bats were used. The more switches you have, the more power for your computer. Of course, vacuum tubes gave way to transistors and then to embedded circuitry.

Now, IBM is focusing on individual components that will be either 22 or 14 nanometers in size, where even a stray atom can affect performance. That's one under a millionth of an inch, and allows you to pack a lot of switches on one chip.

"This is really all about computing systems that IBM and others can construct using these advanced technologies," Kelly said. "And more important than the power than these systems is what these computers will do. ... They will help doctors diagnose advance diseases and help pharmaceutical companies discover new drugs."

Both new technologies will make computers cheaper and more energy-efficient.

CNSE President Alain Kaloyeros estimated the new NanoFab X facility would contain between $2 billion and $2.5 billion in sophisticated tools by the end of 2013. The first tools are slated to move into the new facility by September 2012; it will be completed in the first quarter of 2013, Kaloyeros said.

"This announcement continues to position CNSE to be the world leader in innovations in computer chips," he said.

A major coup was snagging Intel, which has a minimal footprint in New York. Kaloyeros said the NanoCollege has spoken for nine years to Intel about relocating major elements of its research operations to Albany, but they have always been content with fewer than two dozen employees working through ISMI, an international chip research consortium.

Now, Intel will increase its footprint by "hundreds" of workers, according to Brian Kzanich, its senior vice president for manufacturing and supply chain, as it transitions to 450-millimeter wafers.

"You need the economic power of the whole industry making this conversion, so we need to move in some level of unison," he said. "We looked across the world -- this was a unique opportunity: ... It had the workforce, had the clean room, had the government support, was a relatively neutral and centrally located location for all of us to do this work."

Serious talks about the consortium began last year, before Cuomo was elected. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver looped in the candidate around October, Silver said, and Cuomo has been a full partner along with Kaloyeros.

"We created the center of the universe for nanotechnology right here in Albany. Companies are coming in, and now they're flocking here," Silver said. "They are bringing their researchers here now. ... It's just a win-win."

A state official said the governor wooed one of Intel's top researchers over dinner at the Executive Mansion upon taking office in January, and Cuomo personally attended meetings with the involved businesses.

The result was a perfectly timed dose of optimism from the governor. He has focused the last six months of his administration on economic development, and announced the deal to an auditorium filled with members of 10 regional economic development councils from around the state. They've been tasked with creating strategic plans that will compete for a slice of $200 million.

"This is the state to invest in, this is the state to buy a home in ... this is the state to start a family, this is the state to start a life," Cuomo said. "Don't get on a plane and leave this state to think you're going to find a better future anywhere else. Because you're not."

Reach Vielkind at 454-5081 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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