The MIT Enterprise Forum of the Central Coast, one of 25 chapters of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s organization that offers networking opportunities to entrepreneurs, hosted an event Wednesday showcasing UCSB’s involvement in President Obama’s National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI), a manufacturing research program.

The $1 billion program is a network of institutes in which U.S. industry, academia, and government partners collaborate to develop solutions for the manufacturing sector through government research infrastructure. According to UCSB’s Rod C. Alferness, Dean of the College of Engineering, “Since 2000, there has been a steady trend in the United States, where we discover and develop technology, but companies still do what is financially best. They produce gadgets and infrastructure in other countries.” The program’s goal is to plan and execute new technological processes in an effort to support advanced domestic manufacturing and curb the growing amount of this technology-manufacturing outsourcing.

Wednesday’s event featured presentations by UCSB electrical and computer engineering professors, Umesh Mishra and John Bowers, who discussed their respective roles in NNMI institutes on campus, including working with six Hewlett-Packard employees in UCSB labs.

Professor Mishra, who has taught engineering at UCSB since 1990, is currently participating in Power America, one of the first NNMI institutes to address the issues of power conversion. “Power arrives in a certain form and is consumed in a completely different form,” said Mishra. “In that transformation process, 10 percent of all the electrical energy generated in the U.S. is lost to conversion.” In the United States alone, that loss amounts to $40 billion annually due to the use of silicon semiconductors in the power grid. Mishra’s research and prototype work centers around replacing silicon with gallium nitrite, creating wide-bandgap semiconductors whose lower resistance minimizes the lost energy. Since 1994, Mishra has been working to make gallium nitrite as cheap as silicon to promote its practicality as a substitute.

Professor Bowers’ work with the American Institute for Manufacturing (AIM) has made data storage more efficient by using optical fibers (photonics) rather than the traditional electrical fiber. The benefits of optical fibers are similar to those of gallium nitrite: less energy loss, more capacity and faster data transmission using less power. Bowers mentions that progress for domestic manufacturing can already be seen right here in Goleta. Both Calient Technologies and Aurrion, two Goleta-based companies, started manufacturing this sort of photonic infrastructure years ago.

UCSB’s prominent role in the development of the NNMI program mirrors the institution’s proven research capabilities over the past decade. In 2006, PhD student Alexander Fang made serious headway in optoelectronics, and just last year, Materials Professor Shuji Nakamura was awarded a Nobel Prize in Physics for his revolutionary developments in energy-efficient white light sources.


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