Taking the NanoPulse -- Welcome to the United States of Nanotechnology

American nano success stories take center stage in Washington, D.C.

Remember the movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington? Jimmy Stewart plays a guy from the heartland who opens the eyes of Washington insiders to good, fundamental ideas. Well, update the image a little, and put a three dozen smart nanotechnologists from the American heartland on Capitol Hill sharing real-world nanotechnology successes with our legislators and administration. Now you've got a breakthrough plotline.

I was honored to have a role in that story as part of the NanoBusiness Alliance's recent Public Policy Tour in Washington, D.C. Like my recent column on Main Street nanotechnology winners trumping Wall Street investment jitters, this month's column introduces you to the products and technologies that are commercial fact, not science fiction.

Congressional staffers crowded into the Senate Dirksen Office Building and spilled out into the hallway to see a showcase of manufacturers, including big-name multinationals and leading edge research organizations. Now it's your turn to take a peek at a dozen innovations from a long list of American companies too numerous to mention.

  1. Let there be LED. Imagine LED lights that use nanomaterials for greater light, lower energy use and bolder colors. They're small, powerful tools for consumer, biotech and military applications. There's even a product to reduce the dangers of friendly fire in military situations.
  2. Memory, memory and more memory. There are nano-enabled ways to make your 3-gigabyte memory stick seems as big and bulky as a mini-van. Or consider memory chips that provide instant-on computers.
  3. Bond, Nanotechnology Bond. What if you could zap a small, tightly defined area with ultra-high heat to bond two materials? No furnaces, torches or lasers. Nanotechnology can.
  4. Track, trace, protect pharmaceuticals. Using nano-inks, nanoencryption makes it possible to place a code on pharmaceuticals to assure authenticity, as well as manufacturing date, location and other information.
  5. Get an energy boost. Commercially viable fuel cells are closer than ever thanks to electrodes made with nanomaterials.
  6. Bigger TVs, smaller displays. The nano-enabled advances for displays are stunning for every application from theater-size screens to the smallest handhelds.
  7. Clear-as-glass solutions. Whether you're interested in cutting energy loss through architectural glass, saving work with self-cleaning windows, or improving safety with automotive glass, there's a solution in nanotechnology.
  8. Diamonds are a power grid's best friend. Synthetic versions diamonds, the highest strength and thermally conductivity material, can handle extremely high voltages. This can be a breakthrough application in the power generation field.
  9. I brake for nanos. A ceramic nanomaterial is now providing better friction for brakes, and related technology has application in the aerospace field where superior resistance to wear, corrosion and high temperature are vital.
  10. Tasty innovations. There are nanocomposites that can help food packaging hold in flavor and nutrients and block out oxygen to provide a longer shelf life.
  11. Charge your batteries. If you've ever worked on an outdoor project with a rechargeable drill, you'll appreciate this one. Nanomaterials enable faster cycling of rechargeable batteries and functioning in harsher conditions.
  12. Put fabrics on an exercise plan. In addition to fabrics that resist stains and wick away moisture, there are now fibers that can help the athlete with odor control.

The feedback in Washington, D.C. was loud, long and gratifying. We heard again and again that the point was made: nanotechnology must remain a national priority. It's expected that the federal nanotechnology research funding will remain strong. There's one shift in expectations that I strongly endorse. Our government will put added emphasis on commercialization outcomes. My response? You bet! As I said in my recent column, Main Street nanotechnology is the future. Support and incentives that aid the near-term commercialization are the fuel for long-term development. When companies get consumer nano-benefit to market, everybody wins. And that includes you.

Scott E. Rickert is chief executive of Nanofilm, Ltd., located in Valley View, Ohio. His e-mail address is [email protected].

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