Science and Engineering at the Scale that Nature Designs
"The Next Industrial Revolution?"
"the potential is too great to ignore."
Mark Ratner & Daniel Ratner
Nanotechnology: A Gentle Introduction to the Next Big Idea, 2003

"a point that is most important is that it would have an
enormous number of technical applications."
Richard P. Feynman, There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom, APS meeting (December 19, 1959) www.zyvex.com/nanotech/feynman.html

Nano-scale materials are the basic building blocks of nano-technology. As in previous developing technologies, the availability of high quality materials with properties specific to product design may be the limiting factor for the rate of progress in nano-technology. The Enterprise would address this problem using three basic components; (1) Marketing Research and Product Development (2) Manufacturing and Process Development (3) Analytical Services and Quality Control.


(1)               Marketing research for this enterprise involves the study of how nanotechnology may be used to improve current products, or allow for new areas of commercialization previously inhibited by micro-technology. From a materials perspective, we may consider how new types of nano-structured materials may replace micro-structured materials. As a starting point in this enterprise, we could consider market research and product development in the areas of electrodeposited ceramics, coated electric discharge machining (EDM) wire and coated particles. Nano-structured coatings may be produced in economically feasible processes and we don’t have to worry about the ‘bulk nano-structured material’ problem. EDM wire is a value added material that currently consists of a Cu wire core with a thin brass coating. The brass coating acts to inhibit the erosion of the wire during the electric discharge cutting process, as a constant wire thickness is necessary to obtain the specs for the work piece. The brass coating is currently applied by an electrochemical deposition of Zn followed by a heat treatment. These wires can only be used once. However, coating the wire using a continuous sputter deposition process could provide wire coatings with a much greater degree of design flexibility. For example, one might consider a composite coating formed by the co-sputter of Cu and Tungsten Carbide. The resulting nano-structured coating may provide extreme wear resistance, allowing for multiple cutting operations with the same wire.


Coated particles have uses as catalysts and electrode materials. I am aware that much of the nano-coating technology is currently focused on solution chemistry methods. We might explore the commercialization of vapor phase coating of particles in order to increase the flexibility of the coating materials design.


(2)               Manufacturing process development will require enabling the economic feasibility of the products through appropriate engineering of the production methodology. This will include in depth interaction with the product development efforts and it is likely that students in the product development area will also be involved in the manufacturing process development. Extending the above example, the economically feasible manufacturing of the EDM wire would probably involve a process and equipment design to allow a continuous pass-through of wire(s) through a sputter deposition system.


(3)               Materials characterization is a major component of materials design, quality control and failure analysis. Virtually every manufacturing industry requires some aspect of materials analysis before, during and after the production process. Participant in this aspect of the enterprise will use the Applied Chemical and Morphological Analysis Laboratories (ACMAL) to study the structure/properties of nanoscale materials produced in this enterprise and in outside industries.  ACMAL is MTU’s premiere inorganic analysis laboratory housing $4.5 M analytical instrumentation available to participants in this enterprise.


It should be understood that no participant will be limited to any single aspect of the enterprise. At the same time, it is expected that students will tend to gravitate to those areas which fit their talents and interests.


A successful enterprise should be self-supporting. How will this enterprise make money? I think there are several possibilities.


(a)                Selling goods. Can a manufacturing process be developed which will provide goods in sufficient quantities to supply an industrial concern. We could start small, for example selling EDM wire to individual small businesses with limited requirements. However, this requires the students be willing to ‘man the pumps’ on a day to day basis to reliably produce a product. Alternatively, the more senior students in the Enterprise may be able to hire and train engineering students (freshmen/sophomore) to produce the products.

(b)               Selling/licensing technology.

(c)                Selling analytical services.

(d)               Writing proposals for undergraduate research in nanotechnology and/or SBIR’s