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Size matters with new technology



Published: Wed, October 18, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



Better cancer treatments and car designs are expected from a new science.

By DON SHILLING

VINDICATOR BUSINESS EDITOR

POLAND -- Gert Zell came to the Poland Library with a lot of curiosity about things that are very small.

The owner of a Boardman skin care company was among the 30 people who came Tuesday to hear a Case Western Reserve University professor explain nanotechnology -- the science of arranging microscopic materials for practical applications.

Alexis Abramson, director of the nano-engineering lab at Case, gave plenty of ways nanotechnology is being used today: to make tennis balls last longer, sunscreen undetectable to the eye and pants repel stains.

It was one such practical application that brought Zell to the lecture, which was sponsored by NorTech, a regional economic development organization based in Cleveland.

Zell, who owns Face First, just bought a skin care machine that says she uses nanotechnology to rejuvenate the skin. She came to learn more about how the machine works.

Zell said she enjoyed learning the basics of nanotechnology, even if the presentation didn't explain how the new science can enhance skin cells.

"It's interesting. I think it's going to change everything," Zell said.

Nanotechnology uses particles that are between 1 and 100 nanometers long. A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter, or about the size of an atom.

Looking ahead

Abramson said much is going to change as more applications for nanotechnology are developed. The National Science Foundation estimates that by 2015 nanotechnology will account for 1.1 trillion, or 10 percent, of the nation's economy.

In the next several years, the new technology could result in longer-lasting batteries and new environmental cleanup methods.

In 10 years, Abramson expects products using nanotechnology to result in better cars and improved cancer therapy and testing. For cars, products being researched would darken or lighten the windshield depending on the weather, reduce emissions and produce a lighter material for the car's frame.

In medicine, researchers are looking at using nanoparticles to treat cancer by coating them so they are attracted to cancer cells. After they are inside the cancer cells, an infrared laser would be passed over the site, which would heat up the nanoparticles and kill the cancer cell.

In 20 years, the field is expected to improve energy collection -- such as better ways to capture solar power.

In 50 years, researchers are hoping to have tiny robots that could flow through the blood stream for medical diagnosis and treatment. Also on the distant horizon is molecular manufacturing, building tables or other common items by piecing together atoms.

Big plans

Abramson said NASA is researching a "space elevator," which would eliminate the need for space vehicles. The theory is that a nanostructure could be built that would be strong enough that it could be used as a long cord to make transfers back and forth into space.

On a more practical basis, Abramson is working with NorTech to go into Northeast Ohio companies and advise them on applications of nanotechnology in their business. She showed a list of dozens of companies in the region that are using nanotechnology to some degree.

One company she highlighted was NanoFilm of Valley View in suburban Cleveland. The company has developed products that can lay down a thin film of molecules for every day uses. One product, Clarity Defender, applies a film to a car windshield that is designed to repel rain.

shilling@vindy.com




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