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IBM Goes Back to School

'Tis the season for college acceptance letters, and we all know that the schools to which a student applies can say a lot about his or her plans. And whether or not the student is accepted is often a fair predictor of that student's long-term success.

Much the same can be said for the association that corporations often make with academic institutions -- such as the one IBM (NYSE: IBM  ) recently formed with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) to build a $100 million supercomputer.

On the face of it, the deal might not appear to be of much significance -- but it is. Let me explain.

First, it is important to understand that RPI is one of the most prestigious scientific and technical universities in the world. Equally important, RPI has staked a big claim in the emerging field and, for the better part of the past decade, has been applying the science of nanotechnology to everything from electronics and advanced materials to the life sciences.

IBM and other corporations affiliated with RPI -- such as Eastman Kodak (NYSE: EK  ) , Albany International (NYSE: AIN  ) , and Albany Molecular Research (Nasdaq: AMRI  ) -- are well aware of this work. They are also aware that RPI is not your typical "ivory tower" institution. It actually has a rich and formidable tradition of commercializing promising research.

The creation of this new computer will have the affect of priming this powerful pump. The supercomputer is capable of performing a whopping 70 trillion operations per second. To put that in perspective, it has been estimated that it would take a person using a calculator 60 million years to perform an equal number of calculations. The machine will also reduce the cost and amount of time it takes to develop new nanomaterials, and it will turbocharge RPI's ability to design and manufacture revolutionary nanoscale devices and systems -- including next-generation nanoelectronic circuits.

This is great news for Big Blue, because I'm sure that, in return for its financial largesse, its team of lawyers have received some assurances that the company will have the first right to commercialize much of this promising new research.

Now, just as having a child going to a certain school guarantees nothing, neither will IBM's association with RPI assure any type of success. But going to good school rarely hurts, and the same is true with this partnership.

At RPI, there is a classical technological revolution unfolding at the intersection of engineering, biology, and the physical and information sciences. IBM understands this, and with its latest investment, it stands to profit handsomely from the numerous new connections that this supercomputer will spin off in a variety of fields, including nanotechnology.

Care to read more about IBM's nanotechnology-related activity? Check out:

To discuss nanotechnology with other Fools, take a gander at ourNanotechnologydiscussion board. And for great investing ideas within the world of nanotech, take a look at ourMotley Fool Rule Breakersservice. You can try it outfree for 30 days.

Fool contributor Jack Uldrich never considered applying to the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and even if he had, he probably wouldn't have been accepted. He is still a proud graduate of Drake University and the author of two books on nanotechnology, including Investing in Nanotechnology: Think Small, Win Big. He can be reached at He owns shares of IBM. The Fool has a disclosure policy.

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