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(HOST) Where Vermont was once the computer memory capital of the world, commentator Timothy McQuiston tells us how nanotechnology could be the next big thing.

(MCQUISTON) There’s a concept in business known as “disruptive technology.” Disruptive technologies are revolutionary advances that actually replace the status quo. These include the automobile replacing the horse and buggy and the electric light replacing the candle. You get the idea.

In the 1950s, computer memory was stored on large magnetic devices. These things weighed over a ton when shipped. In particular, this kind of memory, or any of the memory devices of the day, were not very conducive, as one can imagine, to space travel.

So in 1965, in the course of sending NASA a high-end Model 95 computer, IBM came up with the idea of using integrated circuits for the system-protect memory for data security. As it turned out, this innovation was small and incredibly fast; and IBM used its brain-power to make it happen on a deadline.

Based on this success, IBM decided to put this new technology – the integrated circuit memory – into its commercial computers. In 1970, IBM announced the first computer with 100 percent logic and memory electronics. The digital age was born.

Here’s where Vermont comes into the story. IBM’s president in the 1950s was a fellow named Tom Watson Junior. He liked to ski in Vermont. A local businessman named Harry Behney talked Watson into putting an IBM facility in Essex Junction. When the IC memory came along a few years later, IBM established that site as the IC memory capital of the world.

Over the next 20 years, Vermont developed and built the world’s leading-edge memory chips. Along with the technology came a new plant manager named Paul Castrucci, who had helped develop the IC memory. IBM eventually brought over 8,000 employees to north- western Vermont.

Castrucci is retired now, on paper anyway, but he hasn’t gone away. Now he’s trying to bring another disruptive technology to Vermont: nanotechnology. Nano refers to microscopic technologies. These things make microprocessors look like the Saturn 5 rocket. Nano material can be as small as a virus. They’re simple, and take very little energy to run. But they are also very expensive technologies to get off the ground.

Castrucci wants Vermont to launch a major effort to bring Nanotech to the Green Mountains. He’s just starting to put together a consortium of businesspeople, politicians and academics. The technology is out there. Billions of dollars are out there. The question is, does Vermont have the right stuff to become the Nano capital, just as it once was the memory capital. Castrucci and his colleagues intend to find out.

This is Timothy McQuiston.

Timothy McQuiston is editor of Vermont Business Magazine.

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