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Montana Tech took a giant leap forward Thursday when the Montana Board of Regents approved a new doctoral program in materials science as part of a three-institution collaborative.

“It’s a great day for Montana,” said Tech Chancellor Don Blackketter, who attended the meeting in Great Falls. “It’s our first doctoral program. We still have lots of work to do, but we’re as happy as we can be today.”

It’s a curriculum move of historical proportions, according to Blackketter. It has the potential to give a big boost to the business climate in Butte.

“Faculty on our campus have been working on this since at least 2008,” he said in a news release. “We looking forward to offering the Ph.D. in Materials Science in collaboration with our MSU and UM partners. I appreciate the support from President (Royce) Engstrom, the Board of Regents, especially Board Chair Angela McLean and former Regent Pat Williams, and the many industry supporters that have made this day happen.

“Having Newmont, FLSmidth and Resodyn testify today made a huge positive impact.”

The potent combo draws course, facility and faculty expertise from three institutions to comprise the doctoral requirements: Tech, Montana State University and the University of Montana.

Ideally, Tech will contribute metallurgy and materials engineering expertise, plus general engineering, chemistry and biological sciences expertise. MSU will provide mechanical engineering and UM will offer physics and chemistry proficiency.

Jim Smitham, director of the Butte Local Development Corp., was ecstatic.

“It means great things for Tech,” said Smitham told The Standard on Thursday. “I think it will help create new businesses in Butte.”

For instance, Smitham expects Butte to follow the lead of Missoula, which has created local pharmacy and biotechnology businesses due in large part to specific doctoral programs at UM, and Bozeman, which has new laser optic businesses that followed a similar path via MSU partnerships.

“With the natural resources emphasis at Tech, I believe strongly we’ll see new startups from this Ph.D. program,” added Smitham. “This is great news for Tech and Butte.”

Furthermore, the highly anticipated collaboration will allow students to take some courses through interactive video or online streaming.

“You can take a class from Montana State and sit right here in Butte,” Blackketter said last fall, in anticipation of final approval. “We have a lot of the technology ironed out. I think it’s much easier than it was just a few years ago.”

To Tech’s advantage, the program empowers students to pursue studies within the Montana University System while attracting qualified graduate students from across the nation and around the world.

“When you have a Ph.D. program, the research dollars increase dramatically,” said Smithan, who added that Tech is long overdue for such a program. “This will really be a spark for Tech to go to a whole new level. “

— Reporter Renata Birkenbuel may be reached via email at renata.birkenbuel; or telephone 496-5512.

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