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Home > Nanotechnology Columns > ONAMI > Nano and The New Era: the Best of Times or the Worst of Times? How Green Nanoscience will Help Decide

Skip Rung
President and Executive Director

In an unprecedented national environment where science funding is going up and business confidence is plummeting, green nanoscience research is as promising - and as necessary - as ever. Two new nanotechnology approaches to advanced thin films with breakthrough performance and reduced environmental footprint are highlighted.

January 25th, 2009

Nano and The New Era: the Best of Times or the Worst of Times? How Green Nanoscience will Help Decide

Among the many discouraging recent news stories of layoffs and business failures, one from last week's Sunday paper really got to me:

Once again, thanks to a nearly unanimous vote of Congress and a(n ex-)president's signature, many small American manufacturers and retailers are facing shutdown in the wake of a sweeping over-reaction to an over-reported news story on Chinese imports. Mattel, Wal-Mart and other large corporations/big box stores have the means ($$ and knowhow) to comply, but poor Mom and Pop do not. Maybe there will be a congressional reprieve before February 10, and maybe there won't, but I hope those clamoring for more "governance" of nanotechnology are at least a little worried about what they might get. Making life more difficult than it already is for the startups and spinouts who commercialize most advances, and escalation of the risk faced by their investors are the last things anyone should want when the economy is in free fall.

But there is at least some undeniable good news in the upcoming stimulus package: about 1% of it will fund a 50% increase in science research, and there is encouraging language that appears to understand why scientific research and commercialized innovation are so important in both the short term (something to excite investors again) and the longer term (growth of durable companies and high-wage jobs).

However, the ongoing meltdown in business confidence and venture capital, especially early stage, is unprecedented, and no one seems to really know what to do (short of letting the credit hangover run its course, however long that takes) to get it going again. But I don't think more rules and regulations is the change we've been waiting for. I hope the administration and congressional architects of the stimulus will think long and hard about what (like sweeping regulation with unintended consequences) might thwart the harvesting of results into jobs from the research in renewable energy, healthcare and sustainable technology advances we are at last about to accelerate.

Meanwhile, back at ONAMI, we are working away with great enthusiasm on our three-pronged Green Nanotechnology program - described at - pursuing good ideas and opportunities that we hope can outrace or at least greatly improve possible bad "governance" of the aforementioned ilk.

I've written before in this column about our research on (1) rational design of inherently safer nanomaterials (including sophisticated approaches to understanding interactions with biological systems) and (2) environmentally friendly/more efficient (material, energy, water) means of producing the same. In the remainder of this column, I'd like to give two examples of our "Thrust Group (3)" work: greener methods for interfacing nanoparticles and nanostructures for device applications. In both cases, nanotechnology breakthrough methods for advanced thin-film production have resulted in recent large federal research awards. And in both cases, lower cost, lower energy and lower waste solution chemistry methods promise to achieve what has so far been possible only with expensive and inefficient vacuum deposition techniques.

Microreactor-Assisted Nanomaterials Deposition (MAND) is a completely new method using real-time mixing in microchannel reactors followed by direct deposition for incorporating nanoparticles, nanorods, clusters etc.. into thin films with useful features such as graded refractive indices, enhanced nucleation/heat transfer, semiconducting properties or outstanding antireflective coating performance (figure courtesy C.H. Chang, B.K. Paul).

The MAND approach to nanomanufacturing

A new $2M U.S. Department of Energy Industrial Technologies Program project involving researchers from PNNL, OSU, CH2M Hill and Voxtel Inc. will build on early MAND results to develop a nanomanufacturing process which will reduce the manufacturing energy, environmental discharge, and production cost associated with current nano-scale thin-film photovoltaic (PV) manufacturing approaches. A secondary objective is to use a derivative of this nanomanufacturing process to enable greener, more efficient manufacturing of higher efficiency quantum dot-based photovoltaic cells now under development.

A second approach to novel material discovery and advanced thin films for printed electronics, photovoltaics and other applications builds on the well-known transparent transistor and solution-processed atomically dense, atomically smooth inorganic thin film work (including nanolaminates). The addressable range of solution-processable inorganic materials can be greatly expanded through the use of metal nanoclusters as precursors (figure courtesy of D.W. Johnson, D.A. Keszler).

Green nanomaterials chemistry for advanced thin films

The Center for Green Materials Chemistry at OSU/UO is a Phase I Center for Chemical Innovation (CCI) sponsored by the National Science Foundation Division of Chemistry. The Center's research efforts are focused on the study and development of new solution-based materials and process chemistries that provide direct pathways to the deposition of dense, high-quality inorganic films. The materials and methods circumvent problems associated with conventional sol-gel deposition and the use of nanoparticle-based inks, providing the means to realize film qualities comparable to the most advanced vapor-deposition methods. Efforts involve the study and use of environmentally benign materials and their deployment through printing processes for efficient materials use.

We'll be sharing and discussing this kind of research and much more at our March 2-3 ONAMI Greener Nano Conference in Eugene, OR - at the world's premier quantum dot industry R&D and manufacturing location - the Molecular Probes site of Invitrogen Corp. (recently merged with Applied Biosystems to create Life Technologies). Take a look at the outstanding keynote speaker program at:

We'll also be offering tours of our magnificent new Lorry Lokey Laboratories at the University of Oregon.

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