8/28/2014 12:06:00 AM

Forbes: How Nanotechnology Is Gaining Momentum In Manufacturing


It is hard to imagine the size of a nanometer. At one-billionth of a meter, a nanometer has been compared to 1/80,000th the diameter of a human hair, a million times smaller than the length of an ant, or the amount a man’s beard grows in the time it takes him to lift a razor to his face.

Yet, nanotechnology—the ability to control matter at the nanoscale (approximately 1 to 100 nanometers)—is having a huge impact on science, engineering, and technology because matter behaves differently at that size.

The impact of nanotechnology on society has been compared to the invention of electricity or plastic—it is transformative to nearly everything we use today. Uses of nanotechnology range from applications for stronger golf clubs and stain-resistant pants to future visions of transforming manufacturing and treating cancer.

What’s so special about nanotechnology?

Nanotechnology and nanoscience involve the ability to see and to control individual atoms and molecules. At nanoscale, matter has unique physical, chemical, and biological properties that enable new applications. Some nanostructured materials are stronger or have different magnetic properties; some are better at conducting heat or electricity, or may become more chemically reactive, reflect light better, or change color as their size or structure is altered.

According to an article in, nanotechnology “will leave virtually no aspect of life untouched and is expected to be in widespread use by 2020.” In addition, a policy paper by the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (NAAS) describes nanotechnology as modern history’s “sixth revolutionary technology,” following the industrial revolution in the mid-1700s, nuclear energy revolution in the 1940s, green revolution in the 1960s, information technology revolution in the 1980s, and biotechnology revolution in the 1990s.

The U.S. federal government is backing nanotech, and the 2015 Federal Budget provides more than $1.5 billion for the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), a continued investment which supports the President’s technology innovation strategy.

Recent investments in nanotech

Major investments in nanotech are being made at the state level and in the private sector as well. New York State recently partnered with General Electric and other New York-based companies on a $500 million initiative that will focus on the development of new, smaller semiconductors for computers and technology. These semiconductors are made possible by nanotechnology and are used in industries such as solar power, health care, and aviation.

The public-private partnership, known as the New York Power Electronics Manufacturing Consortium, will be based at the SUNY College of Nanoscale and Engineering in Albany but will involve companies and universities from around New York and is expected to create thousands of jobs. The use of the nanotech facility is also expected to attract researchers and private companies to create a high-tech cluster in New York State.

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