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Charting a course for the future of nanotechnology

At the Nano for Business 2012 conference, Martin Harmer, director of Lehigh’s Center for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology, described how a material’s properties are influenced by grain boundaries like the bismuth bilayer in this nickel-bismuth alloy. The image was resolved by Lehigh’s aberration-corrected scanning transmission electron microscope.

Against a background of steady growth in the world’s nanotechnology market, Lehigh invited leaders from academia, business and government recently to a conference titled “Nano for Business 2012: Building Toward a Sustainable Future.”

The event was sponsored for the fourth consecutive year by Lehigh’s Center for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology (CAMN) and also by Drexel University’s Nanotechnology Institute. Its goal was to promote the commercialization of new ideas through partnerships between academia and industry.

Nanotechnology involves the manipulation of materials as small as several atoms in size to create applications in medicine, energy, electronics, environmental remediation, clothing and other areas. One nanometer is equal to one-billionth of a meter, or about one hundred-thousandth the diameter of a human hair.

The National Science Foundation and the National Nanotechnology Institute have projected that the worldwide market for nanotechnology products could grow to as much as $1 trillion by 2015 and $3 trillion by 2020.

The “Holy Grail” for much of nanotechnology research, said CAMN director Martin P. Harmer, is to learn to control the boundaries between grains in crystalline materials. These interfaces, he said, are only several nanometers thick but they bind materials together and often determine their chemical, optical, electrical, thermal and other properties.

Harmer is the founder of Materials Complexions Inc., a South Bethlehem-based startup that seeks to produce more reliable, predictable and cost-effective materials by engineering the phase transformations, or “complexions,” that occur at grain boundaries.

Lehigh’s electron microscopy facilities, among the most extensive in the nation, enable researchers to examine the atomic structure of complexions and to detect and mitigate abnormal grain growth, liquid metal embrittlement and other critical phenomena.

Last year, a group of five universities led by Lehigh received a grant from the Department of Defense’s Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative program to study complexions and their effects on materials. The five-year, $7.5 million award was made through the Office of Naval Research.

Nanotech for lower back pain

Other speakers discussed medical applications of nanotechnology.

Michele Marcolongo, senior associate vice provost for translational research at Drexel, described her efforts to develop polymeric nano-gels that can be injected into damaged vertebrate discs to restore their mechanical properties and alleviate low back pain.

Marcolongo said Drexel and other universities were exploring the establishment of “proof of concept centers” to reduce the risks involved with commercializing new technologies.

Chiu Chau said his company, the South Bethlehem-based BioSamPles Solutions, has developed a “Biocookie kit” that automates the testing of DNA and RNA by extracting samples as small as 100 nanograms.

Representatives of Arkema, Applied Separations, Y-Carbon, Gannett Fleming, PureNANO, SolarPA, Primet Precision Materials, Lehigh Nanotech, Arcadis-US and other companies also gave presentations.

Panel discussions focused on energy generation and storage, environmental applications, the funding of technology companies, and nanotechnology education.

Charles Brumlik, managing partner of the global company Nanobiz, gave a keynote address titled “Micro-Partnering: Successful Fortune 1000 Collaborations.” Sam Brauer, founder of Nanotech Plus, gave a keynote address on “Nanotechnology for Photovoltaics.”

Carolyn Boser Newhouse, deputy secretary for innovation and investment with the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, also gave a keynote address about the DCED's programs and its role in developing technology business and jobs in Pennsylvania.

Gene Lucadamo, CAMN industry liaison officer, discussed the Lehigh Nanotech Network, which promotes partnerships between the CAMN and materials-related companies.


Story by Kurt Pfitzer

Posted on Monday, June 04, 2012

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