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It’s all about surface area



May 3, 2010

Visit to nanotechnology center shows broad array of future applications 

A recent visit to the International Institute for Nanotechnology (IIN) offers a fascinating glimpse into future technologies where disease can be easily detected, drug delivery can be highly targeted, energy and data can be stored exponentially compared with current technology, and something as simple as socks can be radically altered by using new materials.  Anders Benson, from the Austrian Trade Commission´s Chicago office, attended the seminar together with a delegation of trade commissioners in the Midwest.

Nanotechnolgy is combining the studies of physics, chemistry, biology and engineering to develop materials at the atomic level. The term “nanotechnology” comes from “nanometer” which is one billionth of a meter. If one nanometer equaled the diameter of a penny, a foot would equal the distance from Miami to Seattle. Considered to be the future of manufacturing, nanofabrication is machining and assembling to maximize surface areas to create materials, devices, and systems with new and unique properties.

IIN, located on the campus of Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, is a collaboration between academia, government and industry. The institute is currently shifting its focus in nanotechnology from the medical field to energy and the environment, for example in developing new batteries for electric and hybrid cars. It offers state-of-the-art shared research facilities and networks with venture capitalists, business and scientific experts and government agencies, and has been active in launching 16 companies since its inception 10 years ago.

Austria has a similar organization to IIN called Austrian NANO Initiative in Vienna. Involving over 200 companies in projects in such fields as microelectronics, optics medical technology, sensor technology, materials science, pharmaceuticals, automotive, textiles and air and space travel, the center is also working internationally through corporate, business and government networks to help shape the future of Austria’s economy.

Nanotechnology is currently being used in applications as diverse as sunscreen and USB flash drives (key fob shaped memory devices that can hold a complete feature film are already widely sold for about $20).  Nanotechnology is a field we will be learning more about as it continues to develop.