The Incredible Shrinking Process

When it comes to new ways of processing,

nanotechnology continues to "lower the bar"

Irene Kim

Excerpted

Nanotechnology processes are often defined as those involving components no larger than 100 nm in size. In this context, these processes are nothing new to chemical engineers - catalysis and crystallization spring immediately to mind. What is new is the way engineers are designing processes and materials to increasingly exploit the rules of nature on the nanoscale ...

... Researchers are patiently working to better understand the way things work at nanoscale, using that knowledge to improve materials and their applications.

A perfect example is nanoclays, platelets of clay materials about 1 nm thick and 100 nm in diameter, which can be dispersed in a matrix (e.g., a polymer) to form a composite ...

... Platelets can also act as nanoscale gas barriers, increasing the distance that gas molecules must travel ...

... Nanoclays are also serving up tennis balls with more bounce. A nanoplatelet-based butyl coating from InMat (Hillsborough, NJ) decreases airflow from the core of DoubleCore balls by 200%, says Wilson Racquet Sports (Chicago), doubling the balls' playing life. The coating starts with vermiculite, exfoliated in water, and mixed with butyl rubber to form a composite with loadings higher than 20 wt% - resulting in a 30-35 fold decrease in permeability, with no loss of flexibility, says president Harris Goldberg...

... As nanotechnology increasingly becomes a household word, researchers are working to overcome technical and marketplace hurdles, not to mention managing expectations.