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Monday, April 16, 2007

NSU dedicates $35 million research center

Clean, as in 10,000 times cleaner than a hospital operating room, smells like, well, not much of anything.

The air in the cluster of "clean rooms" at Norfolk State University's new research building is filtered so finely that the only thing you smell is the latex gloves visitors must wear.

The rooms are the technological centerpiece of the $35 million Marie V. McDemmond Center for Applied Research, dedicated on Friday. The clean room facilities are the largest of their type at a Virginia university, Norfolk State officials said.

They explained that the smallest particles of dust, flakes of skin, oil from a finger, even moisture from talking could wreck the delicate work envisioned for them.

That work will include nanotechnology, or creating materials molecule by molecule, so that desired properties can be engineered in. For example, Frances Williams, an assistant professor of engineering, is working on a microscopic sensor that detects toxic gases.

"A lab or facilities like these will open doors for Norfolk State University," Williams said.

Norfolk State officials expect t he laboratories, classrooms and offices of the six-story brick building diagonally across Brambleton and Park avenues from the main campus to be fully occupied this fall. That's two years later than originally planned, due to funding shortages and construction delays. It's envisioned as the first phase of a 25-acre research and technology park with public and private tenants, called the RISE Campus. RISE is short for Research and Innovations to Support Empowerment.

To date, less than seven acres have been bought by NSU. Work toward soliciting more partners is just beginning after a period of planning, Norfolk State Rector Jack Ezzell Jr. said Friday.

"I welcome you to the future of Norfolk State University," he later told about 300 people attending Friday's ribbon-cutting.

The McDemmond Center is named for the past university president who championed the project. McDemmond, who served from 1997 until her 2005 resignation due to illness, said she hoped the facility will spur more minorities into technology careers, and "assist NSU to become a science and technological powerhouse."

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