Friday, June 26, 2009

On Being an Exhibitionist

As I type these words, I am sitting on an airplane returning from Denver to Atlanta, having just hosted an NRC exhibit booth at the Transducers 2009 conference. This conference is also known as the International Conference on Solid-State Sensors, Actuators, and Microsystems, so you can see why it is traditionally known as Transducers.

In recent years, the Nanotechnology Research Center has exhibited at a wide variety of scientific and trade conferences, with the goal of promoting awareness of the center among practitioners (academic, government, and commercial) of micro/nano research, fabrication and characterization. As you are probably aware, our role within the National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network obligates Georgia Tech to encourage and support usage of our facilities by both internal and external (non Georgia Tech) users. Conference exhibits are one tool in the marketing arsenal that has proven effective in reaching out to the international research community. I have noticed several encouraging trends over the years that I have been attending conferences as an NRC representative.

First, Georgia Tech has growing name recognition, and is known for its activities, along with our NNIN partners, for the quality of its faculty and students, as well as its resources and capabilities. Many people were aware of the new Marcus Nanotechnology Building, if not by name, and were astounded to hear of its specifications.

Second, I find that after two years I don’t need to provide as lengthy an explanation of how we operate as a user facility, for either on-site, hands-on or remote usage. I cannot be sure if this is related to my first point above, or is due to the improved quality of our marketing materials (booth design and brochures).

Third, although there are a variety of other resources available to researchers for fabrication and manufacturing scale-up (foundry services), the NRC (and NNIN) remain one of the few options for direct, hands-on usage. Still, although people appear to value this capability, the vast majority of potential users would prefer to contract the processing to our staff. I remain perplexed as to why individuals are willing to cede control of their own research or processes, and I am seeking ways to further encourage on-site work by our external users.

Finally, depending on the venue, there emerge some common interests, and it is gratifying to realize that the NRC is almost always in a position to assist in these areas. At Transducers, the most common needs were deposition of piezoelectric materials, deep reactive ion etching, and electron beam lithography, all strengths of the NRC.

It is good to be home, but I think the hard promotional work, made easier by the pleasant venues and joy of travel, is paying off.

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