Ask most folks what nanotechnology means and you’re likely to get a vague answer about “really small stuff.” More precisely, nanotechnology is science, engineering, and technology conducted at the nanoscale, which is about 1 to 100 nanometers. For reference a nanometer is a unit of length equal to one billionth of a meter (which is approximately 39 inches).
As a recent report by our Arkansas News Bureau confirms, nanotechnology is poised to become big business in Arkansas. A team of engineers from the Springdale-based company, NanoMech, have developed a ground-breaking new type of lubricant called TriboTruff. According to the company, this innovative product reduces friction to near zero for the first time in history and will dramatically extend the performance, durability and reliability of products that use it.
At a press conference held Tuesday, Gov. Mike Beebe was joined by representatives of Nanomech as well as representatives from Cameron, a Houston-based global provider of products to the oil and gas industry. Cameron’s part in the enterprise is to promote the use of TriboTruff within the petroleum industry.
John Bartos, vice president of development and technology for Cameron, which has a plant in Little Rock, said he was proud to be a part of the project. “If I didn’t seen the results with my own eyes I still wouldn’t believe it today,” he said. “This really is a technological breakthrough.”
Beebe was equally enthused: “This commercialization is one of many different products that have resulted from this research. This is, I guess, one of the first ones to go to commercialization.”
We certainly hope it won’t be the last. All indicators suggest we are on the verge of a nanotechnology revolution. According to the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN), “…more than 1,200 companies, universities, government laboratories, and other organizations across all 50 U.S. states and in the District of Columbia are involved in nanotechnology research, development, and commercialization. This number is up 50 percent from the 800 organizations identified just two years ago.”
Some of the predictable national centers of development have witnessed geometric growth. AS PEN attests, “The top 6 Nano Metros (each with 30 or more entries) are: Boston; San Francisco; San Jose, Calif.; Raleigh, N.C.; Middlesex-Essex, Mass.; and Oakland, Calif. Boston and San Francisco have taken the lead from San Jose. Raleigh has moved into the top 5 Nano Metros (displacing Oakland).”
According to a statement released by PEN director David Rejeski: “The rapid growth in nanotechnology activity across the United States illustrates the impact of continued and significant investments in nanoscience and nanoengineering by the federal government and private sector. There is now not a single state without organizations involved in this cutting-edge field.”
The research and advisory firm Lux Research predicts the global market for goods based on nanotechnology will grow from $147 billion in 2007 to $3.1 trillion in 2015. As such, it’s good to see Arkansas-based companies getting their early foothold. That anchor also includes Jefferson County.
As reported back in December, the Food and Drug Administration’s National Center for Toxicological Research (NCTR) was approved $60 million for fiscal 2012 — as proposed by President Barack Obama and favored over the $51.5 million sought by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. While NCTR’s latest budget did not increase compared to fiscal year 2011, at least it did not go down. NCTR’s duties include conducting peer-reviewed research to identify health and safety issues related to new medical products like nanomaterials.
As such, we remain hopeful that the science of the very small will yield grand technological and economic results here at home and across the nation.