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Small size, big idea

The nanotechnology world generally passes over Southern Oregon.

Nanotechnology, a realm in which measurements are in billionths, is more likely found in technology hubs or on research campuses.

Of late, however, Rogue Valley Microdevices has formed a partnership with AerNos Inc. of La Jolla, Calif., to manufacture ultra-miniature gas sensors to monitor air quality with mobile devices, wearables, and devices for smart city and smart home initiatives.

Rogue Valley Microdevices will perform its work on silicon wafers and ship the product back to Southern California, where AerNos will apply its nano-level touch.

"From the food we eat to the water we drink, detecting potentially harmful levels of contaminants is becoming increasingly important," said Jessica Gomez, CEO and president of Rogue Valley Microdevices. "People want to know what their environment is like. The more information we have, we can see how our environment affects our bodies. As technology becomes more accessible, the better off we can be with our home and work filtering systems."

AerNos gas sensors are smaller, use less power, and are more affordable than current technology. They can simultaneously detect multiple gases, compared to the one or two at present. The hybrid nanostructures can simultaneously detect gases such as nitrogen oxides, ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, methane, formaldehyde, and other volatile organic compounds.

AerNos approached Rogue Valley Microdevices about doing the foundational work on 3-millimeter-by-3-millimeter silicon squares. The end result device is still in development, and not yet commercially available, Gomez said.

"There are a lot of steps between now and taking it to market," she said. "It's something really brand new. The current gas-sensing technology is much larger and not a great candidate for a wearable device."

Rogue Valley Microdevices has an agreement with Nanomedical Diagnostics of San Diego, producing chips that are used for drug development and testing.

"We've slowly been growing, building awareness of our capabilities," Gomez said. "Five years ago, we didn't have the capabilities to support our customers the way we do now. We've invested a lot in our manufacturing capabilities that have made making chips easier. On our chemistry side, we've been developing processes that make it easier to work with these kinds of companies."

Earlier this year, Rogue Valley Microdevices announced it will build a new plant in Central Point. The project remains in the planning phase, but construction could begin as early as this fall. The new facility will greatly add to the firm's capacity. Gomez said developing partnerships not only grows the company, but they may provide impetus for other firms in the future.

"There isn't a microtechnology-specific cluster here," she said. "But there is definitely potential for one."

 — Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.

Riley Aman, a processing engineer, works at Rogue Valley Microdevices in Medford on Thursday. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]