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"Nanotechnology is the understanding and control of matter at dimensions of roughly one to 100 nanometers, where unique phenomena enable novel applications. A nanometer (nm) is one-billionth of a meter; a sheet of paper is about 100,000 nanometers thick. Encompassing nanoscale science, engineering, and technology, nanotechnology involves imaging, measuring, modeling, and manipulating matter at this length scale.

"At this level, the physical, chemical, and biological properties of materials differ in fundamental and valuable ways from the properties of individual atoms and molecules or bulk matter. Nanotechnology R&D is directed toward understanding and creating improved materials, devices, and systems that exploit these new properties."

The National Nanotechnology Initiative Strategic Plan
Nanoscale Science, Engineering, and Technology Subcommittee
Committee on Technology, National Science and Technology Council
December 2004

Applications in Plastics

Nanotechnology contributes significant advantages to plastics applications today and will bring even more advances in the future. Nanocomposites that enhance the properties of thermoplastic resins, making them tougher, more heat-, dent- and scratch-resistant, can be processed using the same equipment and methods as "traditional" resins. Nanotechnology promises to bring about new products that would have been impossible with macro-sized materials, for example, postage-stamp sized memory chips capable of holding 25 DVDs' worth of data, or completely scratch-resistant auto body paints.

Here are a few examples of how nanotechnology is changing plastics product manufacturing today:

Nanocomposites. Nanoclays or nanocarbon fillers, including layered silicate nanoclays, nanotalcs, carbon nanotubes and graphite platelets in a polymeric matrix. Nanoscale reinforcing materials are used in a variety of thermoplastics, such as polypropylene, thermoplastic olefins, polyethylene terephthalate, polyethylene, polystyrene and nylon. Nanocomposites outperform standard fillers and reinforcements in raising heat resistance, dimensional stability, stiffness, flame retardancy and electrical conductivity. Typical applications include automotive parts, including body side molding, fuel-line components and interior center consoles. In electronics, polycarbonate and polyetherimide components of hard drives have been reinforced with nanotubes to give them better conductivity. Nanocomposite concentrates are being evaluated in films for enhancing barrier properties and controlling the release of additives such as biocides and dyes. Nanoclays in nylons are used as barrier layers in multi-layer PET bottles and films for food packaging. Source: Omnexus

Electrically Conductive Polymer Nanocomposite Materials. Scientists and engineers at the Materials and Manufacturing Directorate, working with the University of Dayton Research Institute, have developed polymer nanocomposite materials capable of carrying or dissipating significant electrical charge. Nanotubes on the order of 50 to 150 nm (nanometers) in diameter, that are remarkably flexible and have the current carrying capacity of copper, are dispersed into a supporting polymer matrix. Electrically condcutive polymer nanocomposite materials offer substantial weight savings, flexibility, durability, low-temperature processability and tailored reproducible conductivity compared to conductive metal-filled systems. Applications could include conductive paints, coatings, caulks, sealants, adhesives, fibers, thin films, thick sheets and tubes for use the in aerospace, automotive and chemical industry markets. More information...

Solar Cells. The U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and The University of California-Berkeley have developed a hybrid semicondctor-polymer photovolatic device which will be cheaper and easier to make than conventional solar panels and could be molded into the same nearly infinite variety of shapes as pure polymers. Semiconductor nanorods are be used to fabricate readily processed and energy-efficient hybrid solar cells together with polymers. The use of solar, or photovoltaic, cells -- devices that can absorb and convert light into electrical power -- has been limited because production costs are so high. More information...

Nanocomposite Foams. Ohio State University engineers have found a way, using nanocomposites, to make dense plastic foam that may replace solid plastic in the future. The foam products are lighter than solid plastics, but appear the same to the eye. Potential applications include seat cushions, carpet padding, home insulation, disposable diapers, fast food container, coffee cups and packaging material. More information...


The National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), in conjunction with the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Defense and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration have established 24 nanotechnology research centers. NSF has established a 13-university network of user facilities, the National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network, as well as the 7-University Nanotechnology Computational Network.

NNI Centers and User Facilities

Center School/Lab
Columbia University and the NSF Center for Electron Transport in Molecular Nanostructures Columbia
Center for Nanoscale Systemss Cornell
NCBEN Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology Rice
Institute for Nanotechnology Northwestern
Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center Harvard
Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center for Directed Assembly of Nanostructures Rensselaer
Extreme Ultraviolet Science and Technology Colorado State
Scalable & Integrated Nano Manufacfturing UCLA
Nanoscale CEM Manufacturing Systems Center [Micro and Nanotechnology Laboratory] UIUC
Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center UW-Madison
Penn Regional Nanotechnology Facility Univ. of Pennsylvania
NSF Center for High-rate Nanomanufacturing (CHN) Northeastern
Nanotechnology Science and Engineering Center for Affordable Nanoengineering of Polymer Biomedical Devices Ohio State
Center of Integrated Nanomechanical Systems UC-Berkeley
Center for Probing the Nanoscale Stanford
Institute for Nanoscience NRL
California NanoSystems Institute UCSB
Institute for Solider Nanotechnologies MIT
Institute for Cell Mimetic Space Exploration UCLA
Texas Institute for Intelligent Bio-Nano Materials and Structures for Aerospace Vehicles Texas A&M
Bio-Inspection, Design & Proc. [sic] of Multifunctional Nanocomposites [Princeton Institute for the Science and Technology of Materials] Princeton
The NASA Institute for Nanoelectronics & Computing Purdue
Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences ORNL
Molecular Foundry LBNL
Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies SNL & LANL
Center for Nanoscale Materials ANL
Center for Functional Nanomaterials BNL

Guide to Acronyms

ANL Argonne National Laboratory
BNL Brookhaven National Laboratory
LANL Los Alamos National Laboratory
LBNL Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
MIT Massachusetts Institute of Technology
NRL Naval Research Lab
ORNL Oak Ridge National Laboratory
SNL Sandia National Laboratories
UCSB University of California at Santa Barbara
UCLA University of California at Los Angeles
UIUC University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
UW University of Wisconsin


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