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Nanotech 2013 explores cellulose

NanotechnologyZhi Lor

Nanotechnology may seem like the stuff of science fiction but it’s more common than you might think. On Feb. 28 SCSU hosted to the 3rd Annual Regional Academic & Industry Nanotechnology Conference.

The conference was organized by SCSU and NanoVox, which is a company that brings together people working in the field of nanotechnology.

The conference is a chance for the various companies and researchers to come together and show what they’ve been working on as well as a networking opportunity for students to meet people working in the field.

The morning started with Ted Wegner, assistant director of the USDA Forest Service’s Forest Product Laboratory, who talked about cellulose nanomaterials and the applications for them.

Cellulose nanomaterials are contstructed from forest biomass, specifically wood pulp.

He explained about the U.S. National Nanotech Initiative (NNI) which was started by President Clinton and has continued to this day. It consists of 27 agencies, including the USDA, with the goal of understanding and controlling matter at the nano level.

So far, $17 billion have been invested in nanotech, with the U.S. leading the funding. Wegner said, “one of the greatest problems facing nanotech today is making it commercially viable.” The reason that cellulose nanomaterials are not commercially viable is that it currently costs too much to produce to make it cost effective.

Some of the uses of nanomaterials that Wegner lectured on were creating smoother papers to make higher quality prints. They can also be used to make body armor, which is stronger than Kevlar, as well as lighter.

The military has been particularly interested in this use and has given quite a bit of funding to the project.

Cellulose nanomaterials can also be used in the new technology of making flexible electronics as well as making electronics more recyclable. One use that was particularly surprising was the manufacturing of reinforced cement which is 20 percent stronger than normal cement.

Another of the presenters was Atri Rungta, senior production developer for 3M, who spoke on the role of nanotech in today’s energy landscape. Rungta stated that the world’s energy consumption is on the rise. He also predicts cited an EIA prediction that “by 2020 the U.S.A projects to overtake Saudi Arabia as the largest producer of oil and gas.”

Nanotechnology will play a role in enhancing reservoir surveillance and enhancing drilling accuracy by injecting nano sensors into the reservoirs. The use of nanotech-enhanced wires will also be critical as these wires double the capacity of current energy transmission lines.

Lynne Osterman, Executive Director of the NanoVox Project, said that while the previous two conferences were mainly Minnesota based, they have recently “expanded into a five state organization which represents the whole region.”

She was also excited for the new Integrated Science & Engineering Laboratory Facility (I.S.E.L.F.) which is coming to SCSU this fall. The new facility is an interdisciplinary project where researchers can learn from each other’s fields. She hopes  next year’s conference can take place directly within the new facility.

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