A Name Change?

The usage of the term “nano” appears to be decreasing. There is an increase in the usage of “Advanced Materials” and “Emerging Technology.” Is this a sign of a maturing technology?

There have been a number of recurring cycles where a particular technology description gets all the headlines in various publications. The 1990s were a time of buckeyballs and carbon nanotubes (CNTs). The CNTs developed the fastest with applications that employed the properties of lightweight and high strength. The Toyota application of replacing the bumpers on vehicles with a composite that included CNTs provided increases in fuel mileage and higher impact resistance. CNTs were applied to increase the performance of tennis rackets and baseball bats. There were many attempts to create business niches in the manufacture of the materials. There were two problems, the resultant material is expensive to produce and has not been scaled up to very large production quantities.

There were concerns about CNTs and their impact on both people and the environment. CNTs typically are less than 5 µm long. Unfortunately, their shape is a needle-like structure, which is similar to 5 of the 6 types of asbestos, which is much longer than 20 µm. Experiments have been run that demonstrate a large quantity of bundles of extra-long CNTs will produce lesions in rat tissue that is similar to those produced by asbestos.

The medical profession has been working toward a number of solutions that incorporate nanomaterials with virus-type organisms. Nano-gold is being employed in therapeutics and diagnostics due to its energy transfer capability. Illuminated with infrared light, the gold heats quickly. It the gold is attached to a molecule that cancer cells try to capture, heating the nano-gold after the molecule is captured by the cancer will destroy the cancer cells. In a similar fashion, CNTs are extremely efficient at turning microwaves into heat. This is similar to the effect of gold-nanoparticles except the source is microwaves instead of infrared light. There has been work done with nano-iron particles to treat certain types of brain cancer.

So there are advantages and disadvantages that can be proven. Work in continuing, but there is less claims to incorporating “nanomaterials” in advertisements/publications. Researchers are working on solutions and not only material properties.

The discovery of the 2 dimensional carbon material, which is called graphene, has led to a number of research applications. There are variations of graphene based on the addition of other elements has produce very interesting materials. Current research is looking at applications in electronics where the existing semiconductor technology seems to be slowing down. This is a material that has a significant amount of current interest. Looking back at this year’s blogs, graphene has been addressed a few times. But, the publications are presenting it as a 2-D material, because there are similar 2-D materials with some better characteristics than graphene. Graphene was the starting point for the exploration of materials with properties that were not considered before. The use of the term “graphene” will diminish in the titles of articles over the next few years and applications are being announced.

What is being experienced is that research is identifying a class of materials with properties of interest and others are joining in the research creating new materials. If a material is one atom think, like the thinnest graphene, but a meter one each of the two sides, it is a nanomaterial? Or is it an advanced material using emerging technologies?

Yes, there will be new materials that will capture headlines, for a while. I think that the emphasis is becoming the applications of technologies and not the individual materials. If this happens, the terms “Emerging Technologies” and “Advanced Materials” will see greater usage in publications and advertising.

About Walt

I have been involved in various aspects of nanotechnology since the late 1970s. My interest in promoting nano-safety began in 2006 and produced a white paper in 2007 explaining the four pillars of nano-safety. I am a technology futurist and is currently focused on nanoelectronics, single digit nanomaterials, and 3D printing at the nanoscale. My experience includes three startups, two of which I founded, 13 years at SEMATECH, where I was a Senior Fellow of the technical staff when I left, and 12 years at General Electric with nine of them on corporate staff. I have a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin, an MBA from James Madison University, and a B.S. in Physics from the Illinois Institute of Technology.

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