A new manufacturing plant in Chandler that produces microscopes that can “see” down to the molecular and atomic levels was cited by Gov. Janet Napolitano on Wednesday as an example of the future direction of Arizona’s economy.
A dedication ceremony was held Wednesday for Agilent Technologies’ Atomic Force Microscope operations at 4330 W. Chandler Blvd., where the company will produce the devices that are used in biotech, electronics and materials research.
The ultra-high-tech microscopes were developed by an Arizona State University professor and a post-doctoral student who set up a private company, Molecular Imaging Corp., in 1993 in Tempe to commercialize the technology.
Their company in turn was acquired by Silicon Valley-based Agilent in 2005.
The new Chandler plant is triple the size of the Tempe facilities, giving the company room to grow.
Agilent officials said they expect to double their Chandler work force by the end of this year.
Napolitano, who spoke at Wednesday’s ceremony, said the expansion symbolizes how university research is being spun off to the private sector to produce jobs and grow the state’s economy.
“This is the future of Arizona — a new commercial base born of home-grown research,” she said.
Atomic force microscopes are used by corporations and universities conducting research in nanotechnology – the study of extremely small structures.
The growth in the business is being driven by biologists looking for cures for diseases, semiconductor manufacturers trying to reduce the size of microchip circuitry and companies attempting to produce stronger materials, said Jeff Jones, the plant’s operations manager.
The Agilent microscope is especially effective at producing images of structures in fluids, an important consideration, for example, in examining viruses in water, he said.
Before the work by Stuart Lindsay and Tianwei Jing, the ASU developers of the technology, atomic force microscopes could not produce clear images in fluids, Jones said.
The microscope can see down to the one nanometer scale, which is close to the size of an atom, Jones said. By comparison, a human hair is about 80,000 nanometers wide, he said.
The Chandler expansion is a key part of Agilent’s corporate strategy to increase its nanoscale business, Vice President Bob Burns said.
“We are committed to . . . enabling measurement solutions for scientists and engineers working in this realm,” he said, adding that the new leased facility is “quite an upgrade.”
Anyone interested in buying such a machine would pay about $125,000, which covers the whole package of computer, software, controller and the microscope itself, Jones said.
Lindsay, who is serving as a consultant to Agilent in additional to his work at ASU’s Biodesign Institute, said it has been “terrific” to watch the commercial development of the technology.
“One of the excitements in my life has been the mix of entrepreneurship and science and engineering,” he said.
Agilent, based in Palo Alto, Calif., is a 1999 spinoff from Hewlett-Packard Corp. and specializes in producing scientific test and measuring equipment.
The company has about 19,000 employees worldwide and revenue of about $5 billion in fiscal year 2006.
As part of the Chandler expansion, the company is hiring additional electrical and mechanical engineers, scientists and assemblers, Jones said. Available openings are listed at www.agilent.com.