Three things about the latest big announcement about a new tech something

GE CEO Jeffery Immelt, Andrew Cuomo, Alain Kaloyeros, and a large portion of the Capital Region's state and local reps were at the GE Global Research Center in Niskayuna today for the announcement of a new $500 million consortium that's being touted as both a key part of the next era in electronics and a future generator of thousands of jobs (including "at least 500" in the Capital Region).

The New York Power Electronics Manufacturing Consortium will be anchored by GE and the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, and will be backed in part by $135 million in funding from New York State. The consortium will focus on what Kaloyeros called the "next generation of semiconductors," with applications across many different industries.

Here are three things about this announcement -- involving the technology, New York State, and the NanoCollege...

OK, so what is this technology?

Let's start with the name of the consortium: "power electronics" refers to electrical components that switch or convert electricity. So these components are all sorts of devices: TVs, computers, battery chargers -- but they're also used in things like wind turbines and solar systems.

Currently, and like most electronic devices, these components are made using silicon chips. But this consortium is aiming to develop components made out of silicon carbide (a compound of silicon and carbon). Why? Well, silicon carbide components are expected to be more durable and efficient in high power and high temperature applications. So they could be an advancement in applications such as power systems, medical systems, trains, electric vehicles, aerospace.

GE's Immelt touted the tech today as "one of the great innovations of the 21st century." And Mark Little, head of GE's Global Research Center, called it "revolutionary new technology" that GE's researchers have been working on for the last decade. (In an aside, Immelt mentioned the tech could reduce the weight of a Boeing Dreamliner by 1,000 pounds. The lighter an airplane, the less fuel it uses.)

A recently-released market forecast pegged silicon carbide semiconductors to be a $3.2 billion industry by 2020.

As with almost all new technologies, though, the cost of development and commercialization is huge. So this new consortium is a way for players who would otherwise compete with each other -- like GE, GlobalFoundries, IBM, and others -- to share these costs. As part of the consortium, Kaloyeros said today a fabrication line for silicon carbide wafers would be built at the NanoCollege site in Albany.

So, theoretically, New York State's participation is helping the set the stage for further economic development. (And as the TU points out, the state's consortium will be competing with a federal effort that bypassed the New York for North Carolina.)

Fun bonus fact: Moissanite, a type of fake diamond, is a form of silicon carbide.

But we don't really understand it -- ha ha

A frequent theme in the remarks today from the state's leaders -- Andrew Cuomo, Sheldon Silver, Dean Skelos -- was that they don't understand the tech that's involved. And it wasn't just them displaying some lack of understanding of the details -- they outright said they didn't understand it.

"I don't think many people understand what Dr. Kaloyeros is talking about, but they like they way he says it," Cuomo said. "I have no idea what he's talking about, but I believe it's going to work."

Silver said he didn't really understand Kaloyeros when the professor approached the Assemblyman for state funding for a clean room at UAlbany many years ago, and he doesn't understand him now. "To all of us, it sounds like he knows what he's talking about."

And Dean Skelos mentioned that when he first heard about nanotechnology, he thought it was a reference to the old TV show Mork & Mindy: "nanu nanu."

Ha ha. Ha ha.

Here's the thing, though: The state has already put up hundreds of millions of dollars for tech projects. And if the people making the decisions about this funding really don't understand what's being pitched, then they need to find someone to teach them. Because at some point the "Hey, we don't know anything about tech, but we're giving them money anyway" bit stops being cute.

The need to actually understand what's going on is even more important considering the the NanoCollege model, a setup being replicated for the power electronics consortium: the NanoCollege -- the state -- owns the research facility and equipment. Officials have touted this arrangement as a boon to the state because it makes it harder for companies to just pick up the toys and go somewhere else. But to some extent it also makes the state a literal investor in these technologies. And if you don't understand an investment, you shouldn't be throwing your money at it.

Of course, it's not like we should expect Sheldon Silver to be able to suit up and walk people through the intricacies of a clean room operation. But some level of science and tech literacy in our elected officials -- especially when they're putting state money on the line -- shouldn't be too much to ask.

The NanoEmpire grows

susnset albany nanotech 2011-11

Speaking of things people do -- or don't -- understand: What is the NanoCollege?

Because "college" doesn't really capture what NanoCollege has become. Kaloyeros said today that total public/private investment at the organization is now $25 billion. Thousands of private employees work at the "megaplex" in Albany, yet its enrollment is 301 students. The organization now has facilities across the state. And it merged with SUNY IT.

Today Cuomo described Kaloyeros as a "one-man economic development department for the state of New York." Then he joked (?) that the state should take out a life insurance policy on him.

The growth of the NanoCollege has been amazing. If someone had predicted it 10, 15 years ago, people probably would have said the story was crazy. It could be the future of economic development and higher education. And maybe Kaloyeros has "revolutionized" Upstate New York, as Cuomo said today.

We're just not sure how many people actually understand what NanoCollege is, yet.


Great article. I completely agree with your points about lack of scientific Literacy among our elected leaders. Now a request for a follow up article. So if the nano college is not really a college, what is it? And have we gotten our money's worth for the investment we made? What do those thousands of employees actually do? At $25B, that's a huge investment per job created. Was it worth it?

Alain Kaloyeros: I just want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Governor Cuomo: Yes, sir.
Kaloyeros: Are you listening?
Cuomo: Yes, I am.
Kaloyeros: Consortium.
Cuomo: Exactly how do you mean?

Politics is about people. Cuomo, Silver and Skelos trust Kaloyeros because he has a track record of success with the Nanocollege.

I'm sure Kaloyeros has explained to Cuomo and his economic development staff on why this is a good investment. This is why politicians have staffers.

These idiots in charge of government have to stop going out there and telling us that they "don't know anything at all" about these scientific endeavors they are bank rolling! For the love of God you are talking about BILLIONS of dollars that belong to US and they are up there joking around that they have "no idea what NANO is" etc. Give me a break...what if your doctor said "I have know idea what I'm doing but I'm going to do it" or your pilot said " this is a really big complicated piece of metal that I have no idea how it works but sure I'll give it a go"!!!. Do you think politicians in Germany or China or South Korea carry on like some wayward uneducated bozos????

Listening to them talk was painful. Bafoons. On a different note, I would like to know what's going on with all of this corporate welfare for extremely profitable companies. I wouldn't even mind to see their coprorate tax rates reduced, but... building facilities and buying equipment for them? What business is not successful that way? But that's not all: no taxes of any kind? Corporate, income, sales... What business is not successful that way? We used to pay taxes to support infrastructure, education, defense, law and order, government institutions, like the courts and prisons, and to help the indigent. Now we pay taxes to fund profitable corporations, and when we need money for infrastructure, we borrow through authorities and public corporations... something is very wrong here. It's not hard to be a "businessman" like Mr. Kaloyeros, since he never had to put one dime of his own money into his ventures. He comes to the State, ask, and there it is. What will become of the facilities and equipment paid for by the taxpayers when the equipment, technology etc become obsolete? Who's going to hold the tab to clean it up? IBM left an enormous mess in Fishkill when they shut down their plant, but at least they had built and bought that plant... This all thing is mind-boggling. Billions of taxpayer money given away for... exactly what? Two/three thousand jobs? And to build up egos?

Do you think Kennedy knew how the Apollo spacecraft worked? Do you think Obama or Clinton, Bush, or (insert name of politician you like) know how the things they fund work. NASA gave this country countless inventions that we are better off for because the people in charge were able to trust the people they hired to advise them. Technology and science aren't a single term or two term investment its a decade long slug just to get to somewhere worth getting (see the article above on how long it took to get to SiC chips). And the public needs to appreciate that 25B investment won't yield instant results.

If you want politicians to be educated in science then we (the general population) need to be educated in science otherwise what incentive do the politicians have to really care? So instead of complaining about the politicians not knowing how these things work, pick up a book, put down the remote and educate yourself on science and then go write to your local politician to support what cause you believe in, like fusion, and don't confuse that with fission.

I wouldn't be so arrogant so as to presume that previous posters do not "pick up a book," do not educate themselves or that they even own a remote... Personally, I don't know what Kennedy knew, or what Bush or Obama and Clinton knew (for all I know, they could've known a lot). The broader point, here, is that we are talking about a business model that is very different from that of NASA (btw, I totally agree with the merits of NASA research). Yes, when such massive investments are made, politicians absolutely should know the basic concepts behind the investment. It is PUBLIC money that they are using, not venture capital. If Murdoch wants to invest 25 billion of his own money on something that he does not understand, it's HIS money, go for it (although I doubt that he would do that). In this case, the politicos are accountable to the taxpayers, and therefore they should be able to articulate to the taxpayers the rationale of their investment. Telling millions of NY taxpayers that "Mr. Kaloyeros knows best" is both incredibly stupid and incredibly incompetent, which seems to be a trademark of our government, anyway.

Just to be clear above the $25 billion figure includes government and private money. The government share is significantly less than that number.

Those who complain about advancing technology and it's price are probably non profit and government workers who are mad that they didn't get a piece of taxpayer pie like they always do. They think we the taxpayers should be more concerned with crime, drug addiction, mental illness, healthcare, minimum wage, etc. There is more to it than just social programs. This is a matter of national importance. Any kind of efficiency is welcomed in this uncertain changing world. These scientists are making all of our lives better, just remember how civilization got to this point, and how many died due to no air conditioning.

I don't want my politicians pretending to be experts. I want them to surround themselves with very smart people who have the education and credentials to advise and recommend on policy decisions.

Oh, and who also don't financially benefit from the decisions being made.

Yup, I'm a dreamer.

"Those who complain about advancing technology and it's price are probably non profit and government workers who are mad that they didn't get a piece of taxpayer pie like they always do."

Or, maybe they're people who have legitimate questions about how taxpayer monies are being doled out to benefit businesses and investors. And maybe they have concerns over the return that the general public receives for these "investments."

Given the past record that business and industry has, I'd say there's ample cause for such concern.

Very good points made above. Question: for what other industries should the government build facilities and buy equipment? After all, the competitiveness of every industry depends on cutting edge technology. Should all businesses be showered with taxpayers funds? If not, why not? Why is IBM and Boeing and GE (which are highly profitable) be the beneficiaries of taxpayers funds but not others. What is the criteria for disbursement? And, btw, the university centers are government institutions, so aside from a cheap shot, I don't see the point of swiping government workers, etc.

Amen, JoeA! Perhaps it IS a good thing for the government to give away so much to private industry. But the fact that we are doing it without addressing the questions you are asking makes me very scared about what we are leaving behind for our kids. I read everywhere that Nanotech has been great for our region, but almost never do I read how it has been great, especially in a quantifiable manner. What's our ROI on this whole thing?

When business and government get cozy, isn't it naive to think it's always for the public good?

"In early 2007, when he was state attorney general, Andrew Cuomo brought on a longtime confidant as a consultant on mortgage industry investigations, a move that has gone undisclosed until now. The friend was Howard Glaser, and he had another job at the same time: consultant and lobbyist for the very industry Cuomo was investigating. Glaser, who went on to become a top state official in Cuomo's gubernatorial administration, was operating a lucrative consulting firm, the Glaser Group, with a host of mortgage industry clients. Later that year, Glaser provided insights on Cuomo's investigations to industry players on a conference call hosted by an investment bank. Cuomo's office ended up giving immunity to one of Glaser's clients a year into his term as attorney general." (Times Union)

NYS Constitution (+ some exceptions):
§8. 1. The money of the state shall not be given or loaned to or in aid of any private corporation or association, or private undertaking; nor shall the credit of the state be given or loaned to or in aid of any individual, or public or private corporation or association, or private undertaking, but the foregoing provisions shall not apply to any fund or property now held or which may hereafter be held by the state for educational, mental health or mental retardation purposes.

What's currently going on is borderline unconstitutional, but who's asking?

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