U.S. Senator Charles Schumer headlined the unveiling of two new Binghamton University laboratories at a small ceremony Thursday morning.
In addition to Schumer, Representative Maurice Hinchey and New York State Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo spoke about the importance of the new facilities before roughly 30 local media and business professionals.
Schumer spoke about the $8.5 million in Department of Defense funding he and Hinchey helped secure.
“[The Department of Defense] knew that it was important for both our national security and our economic security,” he said.
The labs research methods to make solar panels more efficient, durable, flexible and smaller. He said new research positions will create jobs helping the local economy.
Donna Lupardo summed up what the laboratories will be more simply.
“The short version of what they do here is take big things and put them into small packages,” she said.
The labs, known as the Center for Autonomous Solar Power (CASP) and the Integrated Electronics Engineering Center (IEEC), are both a part of the New York State Center of Excellence in Small Scale Integration and Packaging (S3IP) located at the Innovative Technologies Complex (ITC).
Roger Westgate, the CASP director, told Pipe Dream that the University does not directly provide funding to the facility.
“Funding for the center comes from the Department of Defense,” Westgate wrote in an email. “We are fully funded and do not derive revenue from the campus. All of the equipment was purchased from research funds from our sponsors.”
According to Schumer, the facility could have a real-world impact both nationally and internationally.
“The research is going to have a wealth of practical applications, including personal power generators for cooling systems for our soldiers in hot climates, solar-powered sensor networks, and self-powered highway signs, solar-powered systems to charge cell phones and laptops without using batteries,” he said. “If you make it smaller you can get more energy. That’s the whole idea.”
Schumer said that solar panels aren’t efficient enough right now to power entire skyscrapers because there is not enough room on the roof. CASP will try to shrink solar panels enough to allow large buildings to be powered entirely by solar power.
Hinchey said during the opening ceremony that CASP marks “a step forward very much for renewable energy, which is critically important in this country and everywhere around this word.”
Much of Shumer’s speech during the opening ceremony extolled the labs’ role in job creation and economic stimulus in the Southern Tier. He said they are a part of the “bright solar powered economic future” of the region.
“The good news about all of this is that it means a four-letter word — jobs,” Schumer said. “Too often, New York institutions did research that was very nice in the ivory tower, but didn’t create any jobs. We are now focused on things that create jobs.”
He added that BU was essential to the government’s job creation measures.
“When we’re looking for jobs here in the Southern Tier, we look to BU,” Schumer said. “If we are the leader of the new generation of solar cells, we will employ people here in the Southern Tier instead of in China.”
Hinchey also spoke about the economic impact of the S3IP.
“The center has generated over $70 million in economic impact to New York businesses since 1996,” Hinchey said.
“Universities are places where we expect to find a reasonable and thoughtful focus on the future, places where students can gain inspiration that they will carry with them throughout their lives and make their lives more stronger, more productive,” Hinchey said. “Binghamton University is clearly embracing this role with the new this new Center for Autonomous Solar Power.”
Neither Schumer nor Hinchey focused on the role of students in new facilities.
According to Westgate, there are currently four undergraduate students working in the program, and 20 graduate and postdoctoral students are supported by CASP. He added that there may be more undergraduate students working with faculty who are supported by CASP and other funded research projects.
In an email to Pipe Dream, Brendan McQuade, business agent for the Graduate Student Employees Union (GSEU) and a graduate student in the sociology department, objected to the concept of the University partnering with private interests.
“Public-private partnerships threaten the autonomy of the university and its historic mission to produce knowledge for the general welfare,” McQuade wrote. “They produce knowledge for the instrumental purpose of generating private wealth.”
However, Westgate said the partnerships are beneficial to students.
“Binghamton is a leader in working with industry and our research programs attract strong students, give them rich research experiences at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and give them opportunities to find great jobs,” he said.
— Sophia Rosenbaum contributed to this report.