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Nano world offers big opportunities for Indiana's economy
Mark Lundstrom, Purdue University News Service
Posted on Monday, May 22 2006

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Nanotechnology promises to change the way Hoosiers live, introducing a vast assortment of innovations ranging from the miraculous to the mundane, the profound to the amusing.

Indeed, nanotech is already a part of our economy through applications for products such as paints that don't peel, higher performance tennis racquets and golf balls.

About 700 types of nanotech-related materials and equipment are being made at roughly 800 U.S. facilities for use in a wide range of products, including sports equipment, computers, food wrappings, cosmetics and stain-resistant fabrics. Our personal computers, cell phones and other electronic products already contain millions of nanotransistors.

Indiana is competing effectively in the nanotech game through Altair Nanotechnologies Inc. in Anderson, where the company is making lithium batteries, and cutting-edge research under way in the new $58 million Birck Nanotechnology Center at Purdue University's Discovery Park.

While nanotechnology is now more pervasive than ever before — surfacing in benefits today that people can touch and feel — these present applications represent only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Nanotech research is ramping up in efforts to bring about nothing short of a revolution in science and technology later in the century.

Federal funding for nanotech research has quadrupled from about $270 million in 2000 to $1.08 billion in the current fiscal year. As part of that, about 4,000 government-funded research projects are under way.

And the National Science Foundation predicts that a global market for nanotech products and services could top $1 trillion by 2015.

"The embedded technology base of Indiana offers promise to create quite different products for new or expanding markets such as in life sciences, advanced energy technologies or nanotechnology," states a report by Greenfield consulting firm Thomas P. Miller and Associates titled "What Indiana Makes, Makes Indiana: Analysis of Indiana Manufacturing."

This decade-old nanotechnology revolution stems from the study and creation of materials smaller than one ten-millionth of an inch, or 100 nanometers. The only way scientists can even study such particles — a grain of sand, for example, is about 200,000 nanometers wide — is with special microscopes.

That's why it's important to acknowledge what's happening in Indiana:

• Indiana University Emerging Technologies Center helps companies develop commercially viable technology with the ultimate goal of creating jobs and growing the state's economy.

• Indiana was able to lure Altair Nanotechnologies to Anderson, where it opened its 100-employee manufacturing facility last October. Based in Reno, Nev., Altair will design and manufacture lithium ion batteries for many applications, especially the automotive industry.

• Through the Birck Center, Purdue aims to take a top spot in the nanotech race by bringing together research that once was spread across 23 different Purdue labs. Before it opened, the promise of Birck had generated $40 million in research and attracted leading U.S. researchers to work there.

Built with help of a $30 million gift by Purdue alumnus and Tellabs Inc. chairman Michael Birck, the Purdue center is one of the nation's first facilities designed explicitly for multidisciplinary nanotechnology research on a university campus.

The Birck Center also is home to the Network for Computational Nanotechnology, which was created in 2002 with a five-year, $10.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation. The NCN recently won a share of a $2 million initiative funded by the NSF and the Semiconductor Industry Association to research ways to accelerate progress in nanoelectronics.

The Purdue network has assembled a team of researchers at eight U.S. universities to create computer simulations to explore new nanoelectronic, nanomechanical and nanofludic devices for their applications in electronics, biology and medicine.

These simulations describe the nanodevice's tiniest, nearly atomic-scale building blocks as well as its largest components that are visible to the naked eye. Multiscale simulations allow researchers and engineers to more quickly export a wide range of new nanotechnologies.

Indiana's economy will definitely benefit if nanotechnology advancements succeed in helping us create far superior computers, telecommunications and electronics as well as stronger and more durable materials and fabrics and new types of solar cells and batteries.

Medicine also will be a big winner through better optics and imaging equipment as well as devices that quickly detect contaminants, a new class of portable detectors for testing blood and other biological samples for medical diagnostics, and longer lasting artificial joints.

Nanotechnology's benefits will continue to drive job creation and economic development in the Hoosier state as this technology spins off its commercial applications.

— Mark Lundstrom is the Don and Carol Scifres Distinguished Professor and director of the NSF Network for Computational Nanotechnology at Purdue University.


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