UCCS flexing its technological muscles

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Anatoliy Gluschenko, head of the UCCS CiBER-ATOM center, holds a flexible display screen that could soon be used to display newspapers.

UCCS physics professor Anatoliy Glushchenko is building a bridge he hopes will lead to growth of high-tech companies in Colorado Springs.

He calls the bridge the Center for Innovation in Biophysics and Energy Research, Advanced Technologies and Optical Materials, or CiBER-ATOM. It links the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and the area’s high-tech industry in areas of research, technology development and business growth.

“I see the need for this partnership between industry and education,” Glushchenko said. “Why don’t we build something really beautiful?”

The CiBER-ATOM center, launched this summer, is a place where local companies can turn for research and development of new products. It gives the companies a less expensive route for R&D and gives undergraduate and graduate students the chance to work on real-world products.

“It’s natural to create this partnership between education and industry,” Glushchenko said. “We need to become a hub for local industry.”

UCCS undergraduate and graduate students are already working on such things as ferroelectric nanoparticles to kill cancer cells, flexible displays which show information without consuming power, beam steering devices for satellite communication and ultra-fast optical devices that one day could mean a person could adjust the lenses on eyeglasses with a touch of a button instead of going back to the eye doctor for new glasses. The physics department already holds about 10 patents, Glushchenko said.

It’s time, he said, for the local high-tech companies to partner with UCCS to make new products, attract new businesses and make Colorado Springs a hot bed for technological advancements.

“I am confident that the center’s contribution to the educational, industrial and research world will help Colorado to secure rapid growth for years to come,” Glushchenko said.

In the 1980s, Colorado Springs was known as “Silicon Mountain,” when the first major influx of major corporations started moving in and started semi-conductor companies. By the 1990s, many of those start-ups began merging or selling and by the end of that decade, companies started moving out.

“It’s unfortunate that some of those companies left the area,” said Anis Zribi, detection technology manager at Kidde, UTC Fire and Security, whose R&D lab is based in Colorado Springs. “I see this collaboration as necessary to create new technology, to become new tenants for industry — more companies will recognize there is talent and start coming to the area.”

Kidde is a global supplier of fire safety and security services for government, industrial, commercial and retail industries. Zribi, who heads up a team of 20 researchers, said he wants to look five to 10 years out for new technologies. And, he believes UCCS can help.

“Today, a lot of inventions and products that are put on the market require a lot of interdisciplinary interaction,” Zribi said. “It’s not enough to have just a physicist in the department.”

For example an R&D team might need the work of an electrical engineer, a physicist, a biologist and a biophysicist.

“A lot of companies can afford that, some cannot,” he said.

Kidde engineers have already been in the CiBER-ATOM lab to conduct experiments, Zribi said. The firm also has purchased some equipment for the center’s lab that can be used for their research and for the research of other companies. He is convinced that the collaboration can grow the Colorado Springs high-tech industry.

“Universities operate more like companies — they are after patents and making inventions that are relevant to industry,” Zribi said. “I believe that in partnering, we can bridge any gap.”

The physics department has 15 graduate students available to work in the CiBER-ATOM center and 100 undergraduate students. Plus, UCCS has multi-million dollar equipment, including a $1.5 million machine to study liquid crystal properties and an atomic force microscope to study materials at high resolutions.

“We have tremendous experience solving problems,” Glushchenko said.

Other university and industry partnerships are famous. The Research Triangle in North Carolina — anchored by North Carolina State University, Duke University and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — is known for its research facilities and educated workforce and has served as a major attraction for businesses located in the region.

Silicon Valley is a high-tech hub that began through experimentation and innovation in the fields of radio, television, and military electronics and Stanford University played a major role in its development.

Ed Osborne, a retired businessman and engineering professor who helped launch the UCCS mechanical and aerospace engineering program, said the reach of UCCS continues to expand dramatically. He provided guidance to Glushchenko about the center’s mission.

“This is a breaking point that can provide a clear platform between business research and the university,” he said.

Osborne said that some companies may not be aware of the university’s research capabilities.

“Every company has problems,” he said. “Sometimes there are advances that even they might not be aware of … We can build bridges.”