Both Veeco (NASDAQ:VECO) and FEI (NASDAQ:FEIC), which supply sophisticated testing and measuring equipment, sell a lot of their products in the semiconductor, data storage, and telecommunications/wireless industries. The academic research community is another market.

This might not sound like an important niche, but it is. And in many ways, when a shareholder like me sees the two companies making sales in this market, I actually get more excited than when they sell to larger customers such as Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) or Seagate (NYSE:STX).

I mention this because in the past week, both Veeco and FEI announced some positive news. The first came from FEI,which reported its largest electron microscope order ever when it sold seven pieces of equipment -- including two of its newest Titan scanning/transmission electron microscopes -- to the Technical University of Denmark.

Veeco had two bits of news. First, it said it had sold a couple of its molecule beam epitaxy systems to an unidentified university for advanced semiconductor work. Then it announced that the University of Arizona had purchased some of its new optical profilers.

When I asked a company official who else besides universities might be interested in the profilers, the official replied that companies such as Boeing (NYSE:BA), Freescale (NASDAQ:FSL), and PerkinElmer (NYSE:PKI) might be interested in using the tools for measuring surface shape and topography.

And that's what excites me about the sales to the universities. Of course, I would like to see both companies making more sales to major corporations, but I'm confident those sales will come.

My confidence stems from the fact that much of Veeco's and FEI's equipment will be used for cutting-edge research in the emerging field of nanotechnology, which is poised to dramatically affect virtually every aspect of our economy.

Eventually, some of the scientific breakthroughs that occur on these campuses will make their way to the commercial world, and when they do, the odds are pretty good that companies seeking to exploit these breakthroughs for commercial benefit will also need the same or similar equipment.

My point is that as long as Veeco and FEI continue to do healthy business with top universities around the world, I'm confident that their long-term commercial prospects are also strong. This is why I've rated both companies to outperform the market for the next couple of years on our community-wide stock-picking database, Motley Fool CAPS.

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Fool contributor Jack Uldrich is the author of two books on nanotechnology, including Investing in Nanotechnology: Think Small, Win Big. He is ranked 9,998 out of 14,426 players in Motley Fool CAPS. He owns stock in both Veeco and FEI. The Fool has a strict disclosure policy.