Taking The NanoPulse -- What Will They Nano Next?

April 10, 2007
You might be surprised where nanotechnology is showing up now. Here are nine places to look.

We talk about it here every month: the potential of nanotechnology is almost beyond imagination. It's already estimated to be a $30 billion global market. What's all the money being spent on? Literally thousands of different products. The fact is, you're surrounded by nanotechnology possibilities. Let's take a look around.

Nanotechnology For Acne. And Wrinkles. The makers of personal care products have found that nanoscale versions of ingredients they're already using can make cosmetic formulations more effective. The natural-state salicylic acid used for acne treatments and the active ingredients in anti-wrinkle creams are gigantic compared to pores in skin, which means they're only partially absorbed. The rest sit on the skin, wasted. Nanoscale versions of these same ingredients can penetrate deeper and work better. By the way, the same theory is also being applied to hair care products, so ingredients can penetrate deeper into the hair shaft.

High-Mileage Nanotech. A company has launched a line of motorcycle oil filters that include nanofibers in the filter medium. These fibers are far, far smaller in diameter than those in conventional filters so particles and sludge are trapped better, yet oil flows through more easily. That means engine oil stays cleaner, and the engine gets less wear because it doesn't have to work as hard to pull the oil through the filter.

What A Lovely Shade Of Nanotechnology. A German company has developed nano-enhanced paint that inhibits the growth of algae and fungus. Better yet, it destroys some of the antibiotic-resistant bacteria that haunts hospitals and other health care facilities. It's long-lasting, non-toxic and has no negative effect on indoor air quality.

Brighter Nanotechnology. A new material that reflects virtually no light has been developed using a unique matrix of silica nanorods and the semiconducting materials that are used in LED lights. The result? A material that has virtually the same refractive index as air, making a perfect anti-reflective coatings for LED lights. Currently, LEDs are used for traffic lights and exit signs, but they're not bright enough to replace light bulbs. This coating would allow more light to exit through the bulb's lens rather than bounce back to be trapped inside the bulb.

There's Nano In The Recipe. Nanotechnology may be used in portable devices to detect toxins, pathogens and chemicals in food. Instead of the time-consuming and expensive process of sending samples to a lab for testing, nano-enabled devices allow the analysis to be done while food is being transported or even at the grocery store. Look for the technology to appear first to test dairy products, wine and milk.

Nanotech Goes HD. Yes, nanotechnology will soon be premiering on your TV set. Several competing approaches are in the works to use carbon nanotubes in displays. They create an image that has sharper resolution than LCD or plasma TVs, but allow for a thin and sleek monitor.

Take A Walk On The Nano Side. Wood floors that stand up better to water, dirt and armies of footsteps? That's the next step in nanotechnology. A flooring company is now finishing wood floors with a network of cross-linked nanoparticles. The coating is more elastic so it flexes with the wood when an impact is made. That keeps the coating intact longer to protect the wood better.

Fill 'Er Up With Nano. Cleaner, more efficient diesel fuels are a growing priority for nano researchers. One company already has a nanoscale additive that can increase mileage up to 10% and reduce emissions. Another project is working on cleaning up the diesel refining process. Removing the impurities from diesel currently requires the use of corrosive catalysts that must be neutralized and washed from the fuel. Researchers have developed solid nanocatalysts that can be used in a filter, straining out harmful corrosives more efficiently and trapping them for safer disposal.

Nanotech. It's In Your Genes. Nanotechnology has long been a tantalizing gateway to gene therapy, the concept of instructing genes to fight diseases rather than treating them with drugs. One of the problems researchers faced is how to get the message to the genes. Now, scientists have found a way to create films of DNA and water soluble polymers that can be coated onto implantable devices. The films are designed to degrade when they get near body tissue, releasing their DNA passengers. And there's more. The films can be constructed to mold the DNA into small, tight clusters so they pass more easily into cells where they start their work.

Intriguing? You bet. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. In coming months, we'll delve more deeply into each of these topics. There's a niche here for you that could make a huge difference in your organization. Keep watching.

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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