Make us your home page
Instagram

Trigaux: Why tiny tech is our next big deal

The world is getting smaller, but this is ridiculous.

Five big brains shared their passion for nanotechnology — a fancy-sounding discipline that makes products and systems ever smaller — at a morning "global technology roundtable" at St. Petersburg's Mahaffey Theater.

Why care? Because the Tampa Bay area's academic and business communities are taking a critical step by embracing nanotechnology as one of the red-hot technologies of the future — and spending the resources to import some top talent to make it happen here. Friday's roundtable attendees ranged from business people and economic development officials to mayors and even area school board members.

If this greater metro area wants to become a "nano" player, we darn well better start getting a better grasp on what nanotechnology is and how innovative (more on that phrase below) its promise may be.

It's worth mentioning where the panelist's firms are headquartered. Not here. SRI International is in California, RTI International is in Research Triangle Park, N.C. And The Charles Stark Draper Laboratory Inc., Genzyme Corp. and Raytheon are all based in Massachusetts.

Scientists and engineers pitched nanotechnology's virtues in areas ranging from cancer treatment and energy efficiency to defense systems. While some layman's subtitles might have helped at times, the nanotech message was loud and clear. Making systems smaller and smaller — even invisible to the eye — is a world-changing trend.

RTI vice president David Myers suggested nanotechnology can help us squeeze more from energy resources. "Increasingly, countries will compete based on their energy efficiency," he argued.

Raytheon R&D vice president John Zolper, whose grasp of advanced weaponry was palpable, praised nanotech in general as a tool to make large electronics systems smaller, less energy dependent and more lethal.

Already, two nanotech powerhouses have landed in the Tampa Bay area. SRI hooked up with USF St. Petersburg to exploit some USF-created projects that include nanotechnology. Draper Lab started operating out of space at USF Tampa, and just bought a building in St. Petersburg, now dubbed the "Multi Chip Module Center," where it will design and produce "MEMS" — microelectromechanical systems.

The bookends of the roundtable — the first and last speakers — were Big Picture guys. SRI CEO Curtis Carlson spoke eloquently about "innovation" and the dire need for U.S. schools to formally teach it. He showed a century-long chart of the largest corporations indicating they do not stay "big" as long as they used to, because they can't innovate effectively on a global scale.

He also skewered Washington and the federal government for smothering innovation. "How many IPOs (initial public offerings) have there been in the U.S. in the past 18 months?" One, he lamented.

"Innovation is our only option going forward," he said, and education is the key.

Draper Lab CEO James Shields had last licks, tying the innovation theme to nanotechnology. What is Draper's mantra to its employees?

"How do you make that smaller?"

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.com

Trigaux: Why tiny tech is our next big deal 01/30/09 [Last modified: Friday, January 30, 2009 10:59pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Pinellas construction licensing board needs to be fixed. But how?

    Local Government

    LARGO –– Everyone agrees that the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board needs to be reformed. But no one agrees on how to do it.

    Rodney Fischer, former executive director of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board Rodney, at a February meeting. His management of the agency was criticized by an inspector general's report. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]

  2. New owners take over downtown St. Petersburg's Hofbräuhaus

    Retail

    ST. PETERSBURG — The downtown German beer-hall Hofbräuhaus St. Petersburg has been bought by a partnership led by former Checkers Drive-In Restaurants president Keith Sirois.

    The Hofbrauhaus, St. Petersburg, located in the former historic Tramor Cafeteria, St. Petersburg, is under new ownership.
[SCOTT KEELER  |  TIMES]

  3. Boho Hunter will target fashions in Hyde Park

    Business

    Boho Hunter, a boutique based in Miami's Wynwood District, will expand into Tampa with its very first franchise.

    Palma Canaria bags will be among the featured items at Boho Hunter when it opens in October. Photo courtesy of Boho Hunter.
  4. Gallery now bringing useful art to Hyde Park customers

    Business

    HYDE PARK — In 1998, Mike and Sue Shapiro opened a gallery in St. Petersburg along Central Ave., with a majority of the space dedicated to Sue's clay studio.

     As Sue Shapiro continued to work on her pottery in St. Petersburg, her retail space grew and her studio shrunk. Now Shapiro's is bringing wares like these to Hyde Park Village. Photo courtesy of Shapiro's.
  5. Appointments at Raymond James Bank and Saint Leo University highlight this week's Tampa Bay business Movers & Shakers

    Business

    Banking

    Raymond James Bank has hired Grace Jackson to serve as executive vice president and chief operating officer. Jackson will oversee all of Raymond James Bank's operational business elements, risk management and strategic planning functions. Kackson joins Raymond James Bank after senior …

    Raymond James Bank has hired Grace Jackson to serve as executive vice president and chief operating officer. [Company handout]