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The Baker administration has awarded a $3 million grant to a Northeastern University program that would focus on making tiny components for “smart” sensors and materials.

The state's investment, unveiled Tuesday at Northeastern's Kostas Research Institute in Burlington, would be matched by nearly $11 million in private funds from a combination of industry and university investments, including from Tufts University and the University of Massachusetts Boston, state officials said.

Ahmed Busnaina, an engineering professor at Northeastern, said the $3 million grant primarily will be used to buy and build more equipment for the institute. The institute has already built a sophisticated three-dimensional printer that can make items on a particularly small scale, but those jobs all have to use plastics as a base material, Busnaina said. The machine is known as the Nanoscale Offset Printing System, or NanoOPS.


About half of the new state grant, or about $1.5 million, will go toward building a second nanoscale printing system that can print on any surface, Busnaina said.

Among the items Busnaina sees being produced with the new system: biometric sensors that can be worn by people, and sensors that detect pathogens or other pollutants in water.

Manufacturers will be able to use the new printer to develop their own prototypes, Busnaina said.

Governor Charlie Baker and Northeastern president Joseph Aoun joined Busnaina in Burlington to announce the grant.

Baker said Massachusetts has the potential to be a leader in the emerging nanotechnology field. He said he's particularly interested in the next generation of "nanoscale devices" that will dispense medication to patients.

Baker said machines like the 3-D printer the institute uses have the potential to revolutionize the manufacturing sector — and bring more work here.

"If you can really start to make super-small and super-smart devices here in Massachusetts, the price of making those devices drops dramatically, which makes it possible to bring to the US, and hopefully back to Massachusetts, manufacturing that historically had been done [overseas]," Baker said. "The applications of this over the course of the next decade are going to be profound."


The state money comes from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative's Collaborative Research Matching Grant Program. So far, $15 million of $50 million in that program has been awarded, according to an administration spokesman, and Baker is pursuing an economic development bill before the Legislature that would add another $25 million to the program.

Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.