Nanotechnology Called The Next Industrial Revolution

Monday, February 10, 2003 - by Christina Siebold
Dr. Jim Roberto of Oak Ridge National Laboratory talks to the Engineers Club about nanotechnology on Monday. Click to enlarge.
Dr. Jim Roberto of Oak Ridge National Laboratory talks to the Engineers Club about nanotechnology on Monday. Click to enlarge.
- photo by Christina Siebold

The technology of tomorrow is here today with the science of nanotechnology, according to Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Dr. Jim Roberto.

Dr. Roberto told the Chattanooga Engineers Club on Monday that Arthur Clarke wondered two decades ago in his book “Fountains of Paradise” about the possibility of an elevator that stretched to the moon. Although such an invention would not be practical, Dr. Roberto said part of the technology needed for that elevator to the moon is now available through nanotechnology.

“Carbon nanotubes are 100 times stronger than steel at one-sixth the weight, making it strong enough to carry an elevator to space,” Dr. Roberto said.

He said the material in the carbon nanotubes is found in carbon soot and composites can be made with the substance that display “amazing properties.”

“It is really an amazing material and it’s been around for a long time, we just didn’t know it was there.”

Although the carbon nanotubes seem to show great promise, Dr. Roberto said that they, like almost all other nanotechnology, require further study to understand any and all health implications.

The study of materials at the nanoscale - typically measuring a few billionths of a centimeter - combines biology, physics and engineering. Dr. Roberto said technology is just trying to catch up with nature in the study nanotechnology. “DNA stores one bit of information per 50 atoms and we are not even close to that in our disk drives today,” he said. “Nature has been doing this for a long time.”

Dr. Roberto said there are many possible applications for this developing technology, including dramatic advanced in the frontiers of physics, chemistry, materials, science and biology. New products and services as a result of these new technologies will most likely be seen in areas like medicine, materials, energy and national security.

Dr. Roberto said Oak Ridge National Laboratory is building four major facilities for the study of nanotechnology over the next four years. “There is more action at ORNL on this technology than in any other lab in the country right now.”

With the United States expected to spend more than $700 million in research and development of nanotechnology in 2003 and with more than $2 billion being spent worldwide, Dr. Roberto said the next step for the world of technology is into nanotechnology.

“In order to make further progress on technology we must enter the nanoworld,” he said.

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