Editorial: New college school year full of promise for students, NM


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What do University of New Mexico undergrads and UNM-sponsored research in nanotechnology have in common?

This week, they’re the feel-good antidote to the collective anxiety we feel from the woes that seem to perpetually plague New Mexico: homelessness, murders, water shortages, low worker participation, low academic achievement …

You get the picture.

But for the 1,800 students who moved into UNM’s residence halls between Thursday and Sunday in preparation for the fall semester, Albuquerque represents the excitement of a fresh start after two challenging years of pandemic fits that have disrupted learning tracks and social lives.

(That same promise of new beginnings goes for students headed to classes at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, Western New Mexico University in Silver City, Eastern New Mexico University in Portales, Highlands University in Las Vegas, Northern New Mexico College in Española, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro and our many branch campuses and two-year college programs.)

“It’s really exciting to see this many faces back on campus,” Megan Chibanga, UNM’s director of student housing and residence life, told the Journal. “It’s much more active and vibrant now that we got everyone back.”

UNM lifted its mask mandate on March 19. Students, faculty and staff are no longer required to wear a mask inside laboratories, studios, libraries, residence halls, dining facilities or the student union building. But they’re still required at health facilities, research spaces and on UNM shuttles, according to the university’s website.

All that could change, of course, if there’s a surge in positive cases, but current conditions provide what so many students crave: a chance for a “real” college experience of rubbing elbows with fellow students — not staring at a computer screen in isolation to listen to a lecture.

The start of school coincides with another bit of good news. UNM researchers have had not one, but two, nanotechnology breakthroughs with commercial applications that could revolutionize dentistry and make it easier for oil and gas producers to eliminate emissions at the wellhead.

One team, headed by nano materials engineer Leisha Armijo-Martin, has developed a remote-controlled, magnetic toothpaste and toothbrush that injects anti-bacterial solutions into the nooks and crannies of gums and teeth. The product is still under development, but a newly created startup, MNT SmartSolutions LLC, is working to put it on store shelves in the next few years.

MNT is one of 15 local companies formed by the New Mexico Startup Factory, which launched 10 years ago to commercialize new technologies from the state’s research universities and national laboratories. The Startup Factory recently signed a license agreement to market the MNT technology with UNM’s Rainforest Innovations, which manages the university’s tech-transfer and economic development programs.

The other innovation is exciting, both because of game-changing product at the center of a partnership and because the partnership offers well remediation with little to no upfront costs.

UNM engineers have created a nanotechnology-based sealant that could offer the oil and gas industry a permanent solution for abandoned, climate-polluting wells. UNM researchers developed the sealant over 10 years, and they’re now marketing it through a new Albuquerque-based startup, TS-Nano, in partnership with two next-generation, blockchain-based development firms, Devvio Inc. and DevvStream Inc.

The two sister companies invested $2.5 million last month in TS-Nano. The companies are now headquartered in Europe, but Albuquerque-based engineers built their original platform technology in New Mexico.

These developments, as well as the new in-person school year, are emblematic of the promise New Mexico’s institutions of higher learning hold for our students and our communities.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.