From Inside Business
Harold Lee was on a plane ride back from defending his doctoral dissertation when he got the news.
The Norfolk State University research fellow was offered a a job with technology giant Intel in the six-figure range just days before he graduated.
Lee turned it down.
“I wanted to do it,” Lee said. “The money was great, but deep down inside, I feel like I still owe something back. When you do something and when you go somewhere, people invest in you.”
So, Lee stayed on with NSU’s Center for Materials Research, becoming a part of what professors and students describe as a state-of-the-art lab facility for science, technology and, hopefully, entrepreneurial success.
The materials labs occupies almost an entire floor of the McDemmond Center for Applied Research – an impressive brick and concrete lab complex that was constructed in 2008 and is next to the NSU light rail station. Inside the building, students, professors and researchers bustled around dozens of expensive machines and lab equipment.
Professor Messaoud Bahoura showed off a machine used to study and produce thin film – a material coating just a few nanometers thick. Doctoral student Makhes Behera worked on the huge mass of metal tubes and ducts.
Behera said he was studying the use of thin film on windows. He hoped a coating of the substance could help retain inside temperatures for heating and air conditioning systems.
“Then it will potentially save thousands of dollars,” Behera said.
Most of the 40-50 graduate students in the program will have job offers when they graduate, Bahoura said. In addition to Intel, students from the program have been hired by companies like Northrop Grumman, Audi and IBM. He recalled how an Intel employee watched a class in the labs where students performed hands-on tasks similar to what happens at the tech company.
“He hired them all,” Bahoura said.
Bahoura said almost all of the work that goes on in the labs with nanomaterials, semiconductors and advanced function materials is applied science. That means almost all of the research has practical, and even economic, applications. For example, semiconductors are used in solar cells, batteries and capacitors.
Doctoral student Taliya Gunawansa chose to stay at NSU rather than go to a larger university because the school combines small, collaborative classes and millions of dollars in lab equipment.
“I saw the importance of growing things at the nano scale,” Gunawansa said.
NSU grad students aren’t the only ones who are able to use the labs, thanks to a new grant from the National Science Foundation. Tidewater Community College was awarded $197,000 in funding, which will allow its students to get hands-on experience in the NSU fabrication labs.
In the future, Bahoura wants to do even more with the program. He said he would love to see NSU students start their own local companies and create a space for the tech industry in Hampton Roads. Right now though, he’s happy his students are finding success locally and across the country.
“We can’t keep up with the demand,” Bahoura said.
From Inside Business
By Trevor Metcalfe
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