The Magic of Nanotechnology

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PostPosted: Mon Oct 23, 2006 10:50 am    Post subject: The Magic of Nanotechnology Reply with quote

The Magic of Nanotechnology

In describing the potential of nanotechnology for the manufacturing industry, researcher J. Storrs Hall drew on a quote from British author Arthur C. Clarke.

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic," Clarke wrote.

The things Hall described sure sounded like magic: a "utility fog" consisting of tiny robots the size of human cells that can morph from solid to liquid to gas and generate just about anything -- furniture, clothing, roads -- on demand.

Hall used the utility fog, which he first described in a research paper in the early 1990s, as an example of how nanotechnology -- roughly defined as the study of matter at extremely small dimensions -- could revolutionize the way things are manufactured.

Hall was the keynote speaker Wednesday at a forum titled "The Next Industrial Revolution: Nanotechnology and Manufacturing." The event at Pollard Technology Conference Center in Oak Ridge concludes today.

Some 40 participants listened as researchers and experts described the promises and challenges of nanotechnology. In the afternoon, the group toured the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences and the Spallation Neutron Source at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, followed by a reception at Technology 2020 where U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., was to speak.

Patti Glaza, CEO of Small Times Media, discussed nanotechnology applications in different sectors, including energy, medicine, computing and consumer products.

Semiconductors used in computer production are the hot market now for nanotechnology, according to Glaza.

She said companies are looking to use the technology for applications like improving battery performance, making solar power cost-effective, restoring bone tissue and targeting delivery of drugs. It's also being used to manufacture protective gear, explosive detection devices, coatings and catalytic converters.

Glaza said about $300 million worth of deals were done in the nanotechnology industry in the second quarter of 2006.

She said investments in the sector have been on the rise, but the industry has trouble attracting startup funding because venture capital firms are reluctant to make a long-term commitment. Institutional investors have had little interest in the industry, which means there have been few initial public offerings of stock, Glaza said.

Charlene Bayer, principal research scientist at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, sounded a cautionary note, saying that nanotechnological research and development is outpacing our understanding of the environmental and health impacts.

She pointed out that some sunscreens, deodorants and makeup already contain nanoparticles.

"You're putting them on your body because you want a more effective product, but do you know what they do to your body?" she asked.

Bayer compared nanotechnology to notorious health and environmental hazards like asbestos, DDT and leaded gas. She said legal protections for nanotechnology workers are outdated, and researchers need to consider whether the benefits of their work outweigh the costs.

David DePaoli, a group leader for separations and materials research at ORNL, outlined a 2003 research and development "road map" for the design of nanomaterials.

The vision for the road map, DePaoli said, is to move from a system of discovery-based product development, where research breakthroughs drive the commercialization of technologies, to a system of application-based problem solving, where industry needs drive research and production.

The road map is a product of Vision2020, a chemical industry-led public-private partnership. The goal of the group is to identify research and development priorities to help guide government funding.


This story was posted on 25th August 2006.
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