in Maryland to obtain technology generated by the laboratories and by four universities, including Morgan State, Johns Hopkins, Baltimore University, and the University of Maryland. The PFI program involves both small businesses and minority-owned businesses, so it has a secondary objective.
John Huggins, University of California, Berkeley, began by describing the Berkeley Sensor and Actuator Center (BSAC), an NSF IUCRC of which he is the executive director. The center is focused on microelectrical mechanical systems (MEMS), bio-MEMS (used for microfluidic mixing and dispensing), and nano-MEMS (carbon and silicon nanotubes and wires). Research in these areas is driven by size and the need to build subsystems from functional units that can be incorporated into larger systems. The devices and structures for these subsystems must, in turn, be built with special processes and materials. The center’s work draws heavily on the semiconductor industry and its processes and requires access to a microfabrication facility (not a small budget item).
Huggins described the center as both multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary. The 11 faculty directors are affiliated with four departments at UC Berkeley—electrical engineering, computer science, materials, and mechanical engineering. The 4 department chairs are among the codirectors, and approximately 20 other faculty members coadvise research projects. Owing to the breadth of knowledge required for the research, collaborations on campus are important. Approximately 120 graduate researchers in addition to postdoctoral fellows work on over 95 projects. Project subjects range from devices to sensors and robotics to computer-aided design.
The membership (35) of the center in 2004 is diverse, including petroleum companies, traditional semiconductor companies, and analog device companies. National laboratories are also members. As a result, the center has additional opportunities to partner with these laboratories at a level of collaboration more intense than that of the collaboration with industrial partners, including co-authoring of papers and co-submissions of proposals. The laboratory partners often have parallel research that complements that of the center. One third of BSAC’s members are multinational corporations with headquarters outside the United States. Since membership is global, the center has a global presence. Small companies (both start-ups and SBIR participants) are members as well. BSAC is also investigating a means for involving portfolio management companies and venture funds in the membership ranks in order to expose investment companies to some of the new technologies being researched. Smaller portfolio companies will not be able to use their scarce venture capital to join as full members, but they can benefit from its research. Huggins believed that the BSAC membership liked the idea of being exposed to entrepreneurial start-up companies and felt that adding them to the membership would benefit larger company members as well.
Huggins believed that a single level of membership was the most appropriate way to structure a center. The $50,000 membership fee constitutes approximately 15 to 25 percent of the center’s total revenue in any given year. Other NSF IUCRCs that began with tiered membership structures have seen most members drop from higher levels of membership support to the lowest level.