2016 Year End Thoughts on Nanotechnology

Without any question, there is a significant amount of research ongoing.  I thought it would be a good time to look back at 2016 and identify progress and/or trends in nanomaterials

Graphene still garners a large amount of published news.  A number of companies are working on various processes to create increased volumes of graphene, others have processes to reduce defects.  Possible applications are being directed at improving batteries through using various layers of graphene.  The possibility exists of creating transistors and compete circuits involving graphene or similar two-dimensional materials.

Applications are still developing, but there is nothing that raises attention indicating there is a significant movement for rapid growth in applications.  Work at Rice is still ongoing to develop stronger concrete, while other efforts are continuing to create materials that heal themselves.  There is the example from a few years ago of the self-healing paint for automobile finishes.  Nothing compares to the initial flurry of activity when carbon nanotubes were incorporated in the bumper of Toyota trucks, or into sports equipment (baseball bats and tennis racquets) to increase strength while decreasing weight.

There have been efforts to develop regulations and governances on the use and applications of nanomaterials.  Europe has been very active in this arena.  While these efforts are moving forward, there have been some discoveries that indicate efforts to define potential problems by size may have some hidden surprises.  Concern over Silver nanoparticles have been highlighted by the toxicity impact on select organisms.  Work done at UCLA [Reference] has shown that the shape of the material can determine the effect.  In this work, plate-shaped nanomaterial appears to be more toxic than wire- or sphere-shaped materials.  [Please note, the word “may” in the work being quoted.]

The issue with a single research effort publication is that it may have experimental errors or other things happening that provide erroneous conclusions.  That is the purpose of the scientific method and the ability of other researchers to duplicate the experiments and arrives at similar results.  When working in new technical areas, they may not be a number of other people working or interested in the same exact area.  Consequently, it takes longer to validate the research.  This is not to indicate that any specific research results are correct or incorrect, only that findings need to be validated by other independent work.

A parting thought for this blog as we start the year 2017: Sometimes, this development process seems to appear to be a repeat of a cycle that civilization has already been through.  There has been a lot of technology/knowledge lost over the centuries.  Current technology is still not capable of creating concrete structures that as durable as the Roman Coliseum.  It is still standing after more than two thousand years.  Our current concrete can not accomplish that feat.  In fact, current technology employs reinforcing steel to strengthen the concrete.  Unfortunately, the concrete containing the metal bars permits moisture to work it way into the concrete.  The moisture then has the capability of oxidizing and eventually destroying the metal employed to strengthen the concrete.  How were the Romans able to develop and apply techniques we do not have today?  How did the artisans in the Middle Ages know how to incorporate certain size gold nanoparticles to create the red coloring in glass?  What else was known and lost through the centuries?




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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