NYTimes writes about the new area: “Nanotechnology draws its name from the nanometer, which is a billionth of a meter, or 100,000 times as thin as a human hair. Individual molecules, tiny organisms like viruses and the smallest features of products like microchips operate in a nanoscale landscape.”
The industry gained new visibility on Dec. 3 when President Bush signed a law authorizing federal research and development subsidies of $3.7 billion over the four years, beginning next October.
Nanotechnology did not catch the fancy of investors until the 1990’s, when ingenious new software and computer-controlled tools expanded the possibilities for manipulating small-scale processes, designing new materials and accurately measuring their performance.
The new generation of nanomaterials is already taking commercial root. Nanoscale clay particles strengthen car bodies. Coatings made with aluminum-titanium nanoparticles add to the durability of boiler components and submarine periscopes for the Navy. Carbon nanotubes add stiffness to Babolat tennis rackets. And pants are being made with techniques that alter the structure of cotton to create nanoscale whiskers that make the fabric more stain resistant.
It might be hard, though, for investors to strike it rich in nanotechnology as it was in the dot-com gold rush. Some of nanotechnology’s most promising concepts, like computers that replace silicon transistors with single molecules, are at least a generation away from market. And for all the spectacular properties of new materials like carbon nanotubes, which are many times stronger than steel, no one has yet demonstrated how to make money from them. Many experts predict large multinationals will come to dominate markets for most nanoproducts long before investors in startups can get rich in a public offering.