Nanotechnology Growing in Importance with New Advances

Nanotechnology advances continue to accelerate as researchers produce an increasing amount of incredible new materials and products. In fact, in recognition of nanotechnology's astounding growth and importance, the U.S. observed its first National Nanotechnology Day earlier this year. The date chosen was October 9 since October is the tenth month of the year, therefore representing 10-9, or a nanometer.

Those involved in the era of nanotechnology development, known for considering what is great at the bottom, now have a day to celebrate ideas and showcase them on top! Recent product possibilities that arise from nanotechnology research include “nanoarchitected” materials and those that store energy efficiently in new applications. Consider a few examples of research undertaken in the field of nanotechnology and how communicating outcomes can impact science, engineering, and mathematics careers.

Many researchers unveiling new nanotech advances

One example of the many scientists unlocking nanotechnology know-how is Dr. Julia Greer. Her research looks at meta-materials created on the nano- to micron-scale and that are reported to be lighter than aerogels, i.e., on the order of 0.02 g/mL. Understanding the physical characteristics of these types of materials is important to design applications such as lightweight transportation materials or biomedical applications. In one of her studies, she looked at hollow-beam alumina nanolattices with kagome architecture for their ability to resist sensitivity to flaws. The results showcase how nanomaterials give rise to unpredicted properties. To learn more about her work, watch this video.

Another researcher breaking new ground in nanotechnology is Dr. Jennifer A. Lewis. Her work with a team of scientists created a micrometer-scale means of 3D printing cathodes and anodes, i.e., a micro battery, that was envisioned to revolutionize how biomedical devices are powered. The process utilizes two-photon polymerization and what Dr. Lewis terms as “functional inks” that contain nanomaterials, where intersecting lasers excite and polymerize a sensitive materials contained in functional inks. In another advance displaying the direct ink writing technique, concentrated silver nanoparticle inks were annealed with a focused infrared laser to print out 3D springlike structures and butterfly shapes. You can hear her speak about her work in this video.

A third researcher working in nanotechnology is Dr. Moises A. Carreon, who is working towards revolutionizing how we transport and store energy. Working with a group of researchers, he has devised a “nanovalve” comprised of zeolite, i.e., MCM-48-5A, and a porous coating that can be sealed with a solvent such as 2,2-dimethylbutane. The nanovalve was designed to capture methane for storage. The Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy set a goal for researchers to store 0.5 g of methane per gram of absorbate. Dr. Carreon’s notes this goal could be very challenging to achieve.

National Nanotechnology Initiative

The National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) in the United States, which launched in 2001, provided over 24 billion dollars to fund research at universities and through the Department of Defense, the National Institute of Health, the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, and National Institute of Standards and Technology. In 2017, the level of NNI funding is on the order of $1.4 billion.

With all of this great research being undertaken, there is still a need to move motivation from the bench-top and create a transparent illustration of outcomes to the public. Further, outreach with future young scientists is also requisite for many funding agencies. Colleagues of mine communicated that they participated in the National Nanotechnology Day event by performing outreach activities at the Virginia Science Museum in Richmond, VA. On display for the crowds were several model Buckyballs, hands on activities (including reactivity of small particles and a simulated oil spill), and handbooks on nanotechnology for teachers to take to their classrooms.

It is hoped that this information can be taken to as inspiration and resources for those interested in nanotechnology. Maybe we will even see you, as a participant at the National Nanotechnology Day event next year!