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Home > Nanotechnology Columns > University of Idaho > Technology Seeds Reap Bumper "Crops" for Idaho

Ken Kingery
Science/Research Writer
University of Idaho

Abstract:
Idaho's chief export is not the versatile, starch-loaded spud America has come to identify with the state. It is high-tech scientific goods, which accounts for nearly seven times more sales than all agriculture products combined. It should come as no surprise that seeds planted in Idaho's nanotechnology labs long ago are now yielding an increasing amount of return for the state and entire nation. With applications that range from nuclear power to medical sciences, the University of Idaho is leading this nanotechnology charge.

March 31st, 2009

Technology Seeds Reap Bumper "Crops" for Idaho

For the past several decades, Idaho's chief export has not been the versatile, starch-loaded spud America has come to identify with the state. Instead, it is achieving renown with high-tech scientific goods such as integrated circuits, which accounts for nearly seven times more sales than all agriculture products combined.

So it should come as no surprise that seeds planted in Idaho's nanotechnology labs long ago are now yielding an increasing amount of return for the state and entire nation. With applications that range from nuclear power to medical sciences, the University of Idaho is leading this nanotechnology charge.

One might assume that any nanotechnology developed in an agriculturally rich environment like Idaho would naturally pertain primarily to those fields of crops. But another little known fact about the state is that it is home to the country's primary laboratory dedicated to nuclear energy research, the Idaho National Laboratory.

With so many resources in nanotechnology and nuclear energy, it seems only natural that the state's leading research university would pioneer exciting new technologies that marry the two.

One such project is a collaboration between the University of Idaho and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Backed by a $732,000 grant from the Department of Energy, scientists are seeking to use magnetic nanoparticles to recycle high level nuclear waste.

Nanoparticles with magnetic moments 10 times that of their commercial counterparts were recently developed, as were methods to grab radioactive actinides out of solution. All that remains to prove the technology's viability is are exploring the strength of the bonds, how it affects the nanoparticles' magnetic moments and how to separate them from the nuclear fuel.

Two other exciting projects at the University of Idaho have a biomedical tint to them.

A group of scientists at the Center for Advanced Microelectronics and Bio-molecular Research (CAMBR), a research extension in Post Falls, Idaho, is creating biosensors that can detect diseases such as Staphylococcus aureus and certain forms of cancer. So powerful are their methods that they can detect these diseases in a matter of hours and in their earliest stages.

On another front, functionalized nanowires are swimming through blood streams and attaching themselves to cancer cells where they become antennas to harness an electromagnetic field. The resulting buildup of heat destroys the cancer cells while leaving nearby healthy cells relatively untouched.

Though all of these projects have a long way to go before they become viable and hit the market, they provide a glimpse into some of the amazing research being done in the state of Idaho. So the next time you enjoy a baked or fried Idaho potato, remember that besides the spud, the state is also providing the technology to power the deep fryer and the medical innovations to keep you enjoying solid food.

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