George Mason University has received a $3.75M per capita grant from GO Virginia, a state-funded initiative administered by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. The grant, which is the largest award for GO Virginia funding in Region 7, will allow Mason to establish Nano-IMAGINE, a new program that is a response to the exploding nanofabrication industry. By offering high-tech workforce readiness training and accelerating the launch and advancement of nanotech startups, the program is designed to position Virginia as a global leader in the nanotechnology sector.
The new program is being established in partnership with Mason’s College of Engineering and Computing, College of Science, and Office of Research, Innovation, and Economic Impact.
“This proposal represents one of the most exciting new opportunities for Northern Virginia’s innovation economy,” said Susan Baker, managing director of GO Virginia. “GO Virginia is delighted to partner with George Mason University to create high-paying careers and new talent pathways in nanotechnology for the region.”
Nanoscale products, such as chips that provide memory in electronics, are crucial in many areas, including artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and health. With supply chain issues causing increased demand, nanotech companies across Virginia have intensified the manufacturing of nanoscale structures. In order to ensure the proper fabrication of these technologies, requirements like a controlled cleanroom and a skilled workforce must be met. Mason has stepped up to the plate both with the Nano-IMAGINE program and its recently constructed addition to its Science and Technology (SciTech) Campus: a 1,946 square foot Nanofabrication Facility (NFF) comprised of a class 1000 cleanroom and a class 100,000 characterization lab.
“The NFF is the only cleanroom facility in Northern Virginia that can offer hands-on nanofabrication workforce training and support groundbreaking research and development activities that will spur the formation, advancement, and growth of high-tech companies,” said Andre Marshall, vice president of research, innovation, and economic impact at Mason. “We are proud to be able to provide students with experiential learning opportunities to prepare them for the economy of the future and serve as a regional resource for nanofabrication innovation.”
Nano-IMAGINE’s workforce readiness program will consist of the development and modification of 26 graduate and undergraduate classes at Mason to address nanotechnologies in the life sciences and engineering, a Nano-Cleanroom certificate class, and the formation of a nano-STEM educational boot camp for high school students. Through its efforts, Mason aims to support companies, like Micron, BAE Systems, and GeneSiC with the creation of a talented workforce pipeline.
“Ensuring a strong pool of local STEM talent is essential to maintaining the industry’s technology development and growth,” said Delbert Parks, vice president, and site executive of Micron Technology Virginia. “We are proud to support this new nanotechnology program that will benefit local high school students, including those who are first-generation, the Northern Virginia Community College and Mason, as well as veterans.”
Building a cleanroom with sophisticated tools is often cost-prohibitive to emerging businesses. Furthermore, nano-entrepreneurs are in need of facilities where they can produce novel nanostructures and prototypes. The NFF will be available to external users, such as startup organizations, at competitive market rates. In conjunction with this, Mason’s SciTech Campus is adjacent to the Northern Virginia BioScience Center, a 30,000-square-foot wet lab building that opened in February 2022 and supplies essential commercial lab space.
U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, who is the chief Senate sponsor of legislation to restore U.S. leadership in semiconductor technology and production and added support to Mason’s initiative, is excited about the opportunities that can be explored through the grant and the fiscal effects on the region and the state at large.
“I was proud to support Mason’s proposal because I know that Northern Virginia’s growing tech corridor needs a skilled, 21st-century workforce to continue to grow,” said Sen. Warner. “I applaud Mason for making strategic investments in our future and working to strengthen Virginia’s reputation as a hub for cutting-edge research and economic growth.”