Nanotechnology conference a big success

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Interactive exhibit, zero@wavefunction

The interactive exhibit, zero@wavefunction, enables viewers to manipulate atomic images via their shadows. (large image)

NanoExpo 2003

Visitors to the nanoconference’s half-day public expo had the opportunity to see and touch a nanotechnologist’s tools and materials. (large image)

“Nanotechnology can and will be applied to almost everything we make,” said College of Engineering Dean Paul Peercy during his introduction to UW-Madison’s first conference on nanotechnology, held May 30 and 31 on the engineering campus.

Science at a scale on the order of a few atoms, or much narrower than a human hair, nanotechnology presents opportunities for both researchers and manufacturers to manipulate materials’ properties, rather than accept properties that already exist, he said. And Congress recently allocated $2.4 billion over the next three years for nanotechnology initiatives.

The May 30 technical program featured 16 panelists from industry and academia. They showcased current nanotechnology applications in nanomaterials and nanodevices; health, food and the environment; and paper and ink; and discussed nanotechnology business opportunities and perspectives.

Conference co-organizer Rob Carpick, an assistant professor of engineering physics, said the event’s goal was to present real ideas with real applications, relevant particularly to the Midwest.

UW-Madison Physics Professor Franz Himpsel talked about using atomic memory to increase hard-disk storage capacity to 250 terabits per square inch, adding that he could store the entire Library of Congress in a very small space. nPoint, a company founded by Materials Science and Engineering Professor Max Lagally, makes positioning devices that enable researchers to manufacture, manipulate and measure materials accurately at the nanoscale. Katerina Moloni, nPoint vice president, said nanotechnology research is a cycle: The company’s advanced tools lead to advanced devices and materials, which then can be applied to more advanced tools.

Second Sight LLC, a Sylmar, California-based company, has developed a prosthesis for patients with outer retinal degenerative diseases. The patient wears glasses equipped with a sensor containing 16 electrodes. The electrodes send a signal to a transmitter, which forwards radio-frequency signals to the implant. The mechanism affords totally blind patients some visual improvement.

A more advanced model is in the works, and Second Sight materials science engineer Brian Mech said nanoscale technologies such as advanced electronics or thin films will continue to improve the design. In agriculture, said Environmental Protection Agency environmental engineer Nora Savage, key applications of nanotechnology will include sensors for food safety and DNA manipulation, and the ability to generate chemicals or products without environmental contamination.

NanoExpo 2003
NanoExpo 2003

Nanotechnology could play a big role in the long-standing Wisconsin paper industry, giving companies the ability to improve everything from ink delivery to the processes through which paper is manufactured or coated. It’s an industry that has undergone only subtle changes in the last 30 years, said Art Ragauskas of the Institute of Paper Science and Technology.

And though there are emerging opportunities in nanotechnology, advances also enable existing industries — such as paper — to add value to their products, said Dan van der Weide, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and one of the conference’s co-organizers.

The technical program also included industry exhibits and a student nanotechnology poster competition. James Murday, of the Naval Research Laboratories and executive secretary of the U.S. National Science and Technology Council’s subcommittee on nanoscale science, engineering and technology, gave the day’s keynote address.

More than 200 people attended the Friday program, said Mark Eriksson, conference co-organizer and assistant professor of physics. “They’re already asking when we’re going to do it again,” he said.

NanoExpo 2003
NanoExpo 2003

Beginning with a lighthearted lecture by UCLA Chemistry Professor James Gimzewski and UCLA Design and Media Arts Professor Victoria Vesna, a half-day public expo capped the conference May 31.

The duo talked about the inspiration for the interactive art installation, zero@wavefunction, through which viewers can use their shadows to manipulate several buckminsterfullerene atoms projected in giant scale on a screen.

“At a very early age, science is part of the culture which somehow becomes alienated from so many children,” said Gimzewski. “Through art and science, we can inspire people also to be interested in science.”

NanoExpo 2003

Although zero@wavefunction debuted during the event, held in the Engineering Centers Building, beginning on or about June 3, it will move outdoors for two weeks, occupying space on a wall between the Elvehjem Art Museum and Humanities Building.

Elsewhere during the expo, visitors of all ages perused hands-on nanotechnology exhibits, including devices that make cleaner air and water and greener products and an explanation of light-emitting diodes. They saw demonstrations of how atomic-force microscopes, confocal microscopes, and scanning-probe microscopes-a nanotechnologist’s tools-work and, via two workshops and a poster session, learned about how to interest kids in science via nanotechnology.

“The ABCs of Nanotechnology: Atoms, Bits and Civilization,” a lively, audience-participation keynote speech by Art Ellis, director of the National Science Foundation’s chemistry division and UW-Madison chemistry professor, capped the event, which drew a crowd of about 200.