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25 January 2010 NANO Magazine - Issue 14

Thin Films and Nanotechnology applications

Image Credit: NANO Magazine.

People comment that nano is all hype and hot air, and ask what has happened to the promised wave of applications that have been widely heralded over the last decade. This latest issue of NANO magazine aims to dispel the fallacy that nanomaterials are a technology in waiting. Thin films - we can’t see them but we can’t live without them! Frank Placido of the prestigious Thin Film Centre in Paisley writes about the astonishingly diverse applications of thin films - from anticounterfeiting to better medical implants to smart packaging to improved solar energy collection efficiency.

Wood treatments that enable better performance from indigenous timber - nanotechnology applications can be found in some surprising areas! Thomas Schubert and colleagues at the Institute of New Materials (INM) in Saarbruecken describe some of the new areas of research at INM, noted for its remarkable record in spinning out new companies, that will provide even more benefits to society.

Regulating nano? For many groups, anxious about the potential for harm, regulating this new world of nano technologies is like trying to round up and control the spirits that have escaped from Pandora’s box, a seemingly impossible task. It has taken a philosopher of science, Alfred Nordmann of Darmstadt University - whose namesake, King Alfred, famously showed his people that he was not powerful enough to turn the tide - to acknowledge the limits of knowledge available to regulators and, with other colleagues, provide an intelligent and thoughtful solution to a hitherto intractable problem.

Meaningful toxicology testing. Another gap in knowledge, this time of the potential toxic effect of some nanoparticles has led to an exponential growth in research projects which claim to demonstrate a variety of health effects. The lack of protocols for this research has meant that, sadly, many results do not stand up to expert scrutiny. Tackling this problem head on, two renowned toxicologists, Vicki Stone and Julia Varet of SAFENANO, have suggested workable protocols for research into the potential effects of nanoparticles that should ensure a more systematic approach - and meaningful results.

Whither nano in the UK? The country profile, featuring the UK, is written by Andy Garland of Way back in the mid-1980’s, the UK launched its own national nanotechnology initiative (NION) driven by the then Head of Metrology at the National Physical Laboratory, Professor Albert Franks, who convinced Government that manufacturing excellence could only come from embracing tolerances at the nanoscale. In the long run, NION was not only about ultraprecision engineering, it also brought together an eclectic mix of industries, technologies and researchers, and sowed the seeds for many projects that led to successful products. Professor Franks is also reputed to have inspired the Germans to develop their own nanotechnology strategy, after a chance discussion in a railway station with Gerd Bachmann, then a senior scientist with the German Research Ministry. Today, the UK is working to build a new meaningful strategy.

Encapsulation and controlled delivery. Nanoscale technology is increasingly important for a range of industries whose products depend on, or are differentiated by, the controlled delivery of scents, flavours, colours, vitamins, drugs or other active ingredients. These include the huge money-spinning cosmetics, personal care, household products, food, agriculture, pharmacy and paints and adhesives industries. Gulden Yilmaz-Jongboom of Wageningen University explains how nanocomposite systems offer a range of encapsulation options, and the capability to tune dispersion and release rates. She discusses polymer melt extrusion techniques for creating these systems, enabling the protection and release of delicate ingredients.

An interview with Peter Dobson, materials nanoentrepreneur and leading academic. No stranger to nano innovation and bringing nanotechnologies to the market place, Professor Dobson is that rara avis who has succeeded as an academic heavyweight, while keeping an eye open for the commercial implications of his work. This has led to the successful production of a new kind of sunscreen, an environmentally friendly fuel additive and a biomedical sensor. Peter Dobson has not kept his knowledge of business to himself, as Director of Oxford University’s Begbroke Science Park, he inspires and teaches other academics how to succeed in business. Recently the UK Research Councils have appropriately appointed him as strategic advisor for Nanotechnology.

Nanocoatings in action. The nanotechnology commercialised by the company P2i is something we can all benefit from now. P2i specialises in the application of a nanoscale coating that can protect items of clothing and footwear (and almost probably anything else you care to name that can be coated – even hearing aids!) from the effects of many liquids including water and oils, which simply roll off the treated surface. The secret lies in bonding a layer of polymer, only nanometres thick, to the chosen surface - and voilà! -the magic starts to work on every surface, including nooks and crannies, that has been exposed to the treatment.

Gold and silver nanoparticles for the ultimate in luxury fabrics. Down in the antipodes, nanotechnology innovation knows no bounds. In the last issue Jim Johnston from Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, described how nano-enabled packaging protects perishable foods by delaying heat stress. In this issue he talks about the ultimate in designer luxury, pure merino wool embedded with gold and silver nanoparticles, for that extra special cachet!

Communicating nano – don’t let the marketers fudge the issues. John Andrew Carruthers, a doctoral student at the University of the West of Scotland, suggests that not all publicity really is good publicity, and urges nanoscientists to shelve selfeffacement and seek to actively engage with the public – or the wrong messages might prevail. He cites as one example, the Tata Nano car, whose manufacture caused rioting in some parts of India, and consequently may have tainted the use of the word ‘nano’ elsewhere.

Source: NANO Magazine - Issue 14 /...

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Posted on 2011-11-02 at 05:47:36

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