Of The Morning Call
The Morning Call -- March 19, 2003
Everybody onload="window.location = 'http://www.lehigh.edu/nano/'"'s
looking for the next big thing in technology
but breakthroughs will probably be much smaller than expected, a
top federal science official said Tuesday. So small, in fact, that
you'll need an electron microscope to see them.
C. Roco is the National Science Foundation's senior adviser for
new field that creates high-tech devices at the atomic and molecular
levels. Roco was the guest speaker at the Lehigh Valley Technology
Network's breakfast meeting at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, where
he told local business leaders that nanotechnology will play a key
role in everything from diagnosing cancer to feeding the world.
is just at the beginning,''
Roco said during his speech at Lehigh's Mountaintop Campus. Nanotechnology
didn't exist a decade ago, but Roco believes society will feel its
impact within five years. And by 2015, it will be a $1 trillion
business, according to a National Science Foundation forecast. Nanotechnology
is named after the nanometer, a unit of measure equal to one billionth
of a meter. Most nanotech products measure no larger than 100 nanometers.
is already being applied to some consumer products.
Development of a super-small
zinc compound has led to the introduction of sunscreen lotion that
goes on clear and protects skin better than equal amounts of traditional
white lotion. And some new tennis racquets have ''nanotubes'' molded
into their frames, greatly increasing the amount of energy they
absorb. Continued nanotech development opens up huge new opportunities,
Roco said. For example, nanotechnology has led to the development
of microscopic materials that are assisting doctors in cancer detection
and drug delivery. Someday, researchers may design molecule-sized
sensors that can rebuild tissue or monitor the activity of a single
cell. Nanotechnology also has applications in agriculture, energy
conservation, water treatment, aerospace, defense and other areas.
federal government is so confident in nanotechnology's potential
that it has put Roco in charge of its National Nanotechnology Initiative.
The 7-year-old program, which will receive $700 million in federal
funding this year, serves as a catalyst for nanotech research and
education. The initiative is supported by the U.S. departments of
Energy, Environmental Protection, Agriculture and Defense, as well
as the National Institutes of Health and NASA. The initiative also
works with 22 regional nanotechnology alliances nationwide. One
of them is The Nanotechnology Institute in Philadelphia, which was
organized by the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern
Pennsylvania. By supporting research and education, the government
hopes to help create a wide base of knowledge and turn ideas into
research is being conducted locally by organizations
such as Air Products and Chemicals of Trexlertown and Lehigh. Jeff
DePinto, Air Products' business development manager, said the company
created a nanotechnology strategy more than a year ago. Air Products
believes new molecules created with nanotechnology could revolutionize
the gases and chemicals it provides for the electronics, health
care and other industries.At
Lehigh, Vice Provost for Research David Williams said researchers
are combining nanotechnology with the school's engineering strength.
For example, a Lehigh professor recently developed tiny metal particles
that help clean contaminated soil and ground water. The microscopic
metal particles are magnetized and introduced into water that flows
through contaminated soil. The small particles flow easily through
the soil, picking up PCBs and other pollutants. After the particles
pass through the soil, magnets are used to collect them, picking
up hazardous pollutants in the process. Williams said the particles
are being field tested at EPA Superfund sites in New Jersey and
could soon be used at polluted areas nationwide. ''We do some pretty
fundamental here,'' Williams said. ''But in the end, we've got our
eyes set on what we're going to do with it.'