More than 200 people packed into the TI auditorium Feb. 7 to find out what nanotechnology is all about. Apparently they had all heard President Bush mention it a week prior and didn?t want to miss the action.
The conference called the Commercialization of Nanotechnology in Texas housed panelists Jim Von Ehr from Zyvex, Mark Ellison from Governor Perry?s office, President David Daniel and Ray Baughman, Director of the Nanotech Institute at UTD.
Sponsored by the Law Firm Haynes and Boone, the afternoon was an open forum designed to increase awareness about the commercializability of nanotechnology breakthroughs.
Sponsored by the Metroplex Technology Business Council, the Nanotechnology focus group is a collection of investors, venture capitalists, incubators, lawyers and scientists who want to get on the same page as Dr. Baughman and other members of UTD Nanotech Institute.
What is nanotechnology?
Nanotechnology is defined by the US National Nanotechnology Initiative to be, ?the understanding and control of matter at dimensions of roughly one to 100 nanometers, where unique phenomena enable novel applications.?
The versatility of nanotechnology lies in its potential to create molecules atom by atom, a feat previously considered to be confined to the mysterious world of intra-cellular biology.
Since many properties of matter are defined by the capabilities of their smallest units, controlling the creation of a product from the molecular level upward directly allows the larger, complete material to be hand-tailored for whatever task it is to perform. Though a thorough understanding of the complexities of the chemistry and physics behind nanotechnological advances requires several years of training and education, its applications are easy to comprehend.
For example, based on the premise of building from a controlled small unit, nanotechnology is being used to design organic light-emitting diodes which allow for brighter and more efficient screens on TVs and monitors, saving millions in this computer-ubiquitous world. Stronger, tougher, and less dense construction materials are being developed along with circuits for computer boards that are only a few nanometers in length, allowing for more efficient and numerous dispersion.
The field of nanotechnology also allowed the discovery of carbon nanotubes, a new spacial arrangement of carbon that exhibits unique properties.
A carbon nanotube, classified as a type of quantum wire, or quantum dot (see inset), can be conceptually thought of as graphite sheet rolled up into a hollow cylinder, much in the way a paper towel center is constructed. Depending on the manufacturing technique used to make them, they can be either metallic or semi-conducting, with all of their electrons floating on the outer surface of the tube.
This configuration allows nanotubes to possess amazing properties, such as being pound-for-pound 100 times stronger than stainless steel, possessing an electrical current density more than 1,000 times stronger than metals such as silver and copper, and being excellent thermal conductors along the tube?s length while remaining excellent insulators laterally.
Additionally, it has been demonstrated that when the tubes are mixed with other compounds, some new properties emerge, such as the production of the toughest material known to man, created here at UTD?s Nanotech Institute. This combination of carbon nanotubes and polyvinyl alcohol, proves to be four times tougher than the previous record holder, nature?s own spider silk, and is stronger than the commonly known bullet-resistant fiber, Kevlar, by a factor of 22. In mid-2005, the Institute developed a production method for carbon nanotube sheets which are 1/1000th the thickness of a human hair and yet still capable of supporting 50,000 times their own weight. The Institute can produce these sheets at up to seven meters per minute, making them commercially viable. These developments are only two among the wide variety of research projects at the Nanotech Institute. Others include creating and improving organic solar cells, targeted drug delivery by the functionalization of carbon nanotubes, molecular capacitors, fuel cells and even artificial muscles. These muscles may one day be integrated into a person?s body by linking up the neurons at the exposed site with a small computer that directs the action of the muscle.
These various projects touch upon every subject from chemistry to EE and back bio- and neuroscience, demonstrating the extreme breadth of the research field dubbed nanotechnology. Perhaps most importantly, many other applications of nanotechnology are out there waiting to be created and tested, and UTD is continuing its tradition of leading research in this field. As part of the effort to attract and educate the best researchers of the future, there has begun an effort to create a Nanotechnology Minor at UTD. The minor will provide certification that students have received an in-depth understanding of, and hands-on experience in, the field of nanotechnology.
If you, or anyone you know, is interested in the prospect of such a minor at UTD, please visit: www.thesyzygy.com/nano to fill out a survey that will help the effort leaders better design the program and to show student support for such a program. For more information on the burgeoning field of nanotechnology, visit: nanotech.utdallas.edu, www.zyvex.com/nano, or search the amazing public knowledge database on Wikipedia.org.