Thursday, June 13, 2013

A Close Eye on Nanotechnology

Still in its infancy, research and development at the nanoscale has already made an impact. Yet roadblocks to commercialization still exist.

Nanotechnology typically describes any material, device, or technology where feature sizes are smaller than 100 nanometers in dimension. However, this new and uncharted direction in research provides a large spark for new product and drug delivery development. To achieve these discoveries, scientists must rely on specialized instruments and materials to drive their experiments and analysis.

R&D Magazine surveyed leading instrument and materials vendors to gauge their opinion on nanotechnology’s growth and the challenges this science faces.

Nanotech trending
As researchers began working in nanoscale domains, most efforts focused on characterizing materials and understanding the relationships between their structure (composition) and properties. As scientists improved their understanding of these structure-property relationships, “their focus shifted to relationships between structure and function,” says Jens Greiser, VP/CTO, FEI Co., Hillsboro, Ore. To achieve this, microscopy and instrument vendors realized they would first have to make it easy to see structures at the atomic scale. For example, transmission electron microscopes (TEMs) have been used for years to characterize the size and shape of nanoparticles, but until aberration-corrected optics became commercially available, TEM could not clearly visualize atomic structures at the particle surface. With this added analytical capability, researchers could begin to establish a relationship between the structure of a nanoscale feature and its properties and function.

While characterization tools have strengthened, so have the actual use of nanomaterials. Over the past several years, some of the most dramatic advances in nanotechnology have come from new applications resulting from the development and modification of nanoscale-enhanced materials; thus the trend of movement from conceptual nanoengineered products to real-world applications.

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