U.S. Army plans new center
to develop military nanotech

The United States Army is reaching out to academia and industry to build a technology research campus that will simultaneously help armaments developers exploit nanotechnology and shepherd to the marketplace nanotechnology applications and products.

The partnerships have not been established yet. The Army is soliciting proposals for research from universities and businesses.

The U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC) at New Jersey’s Picatinny Arsenal near New York City is committed to nanotechnology, said Mark Mezger, nanotechnologies program coordinator at the arsenal. The hope, he said, is that the Army’s investment in nanotechnology combined with industry and academic research will lead to a “Nano Valley” in northern New Jersey.

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“The federal government has about $1 billion in nanotechnology research in place, and that’s a lot of research activity,” he said. “The Army needs some sort of process by which we can monitor all of the different nanotechnologies going on out there, determine which ones will help us and transition those from the laboratory and develop them, so we can put them in the hands of weapons developers.”

The research must have a military application, Mezger said, but the commercialization component is critical.

“The niche we are trying to capture for ourselves is once the technology or research and development prototypes are found in the lab, if there is dual-use potential, we want to develop them into products,” he said. “What we’re looking for is a way to identify these technologies and leverage them.”

Several research areas are logical for the ARDEC. Nanopowders, for example, could figure largely into the manufacture of explosives, he said. A nanotechnology that allows, on a large scale, manipulation of the size of nanoparticles would permit scientists to engineer the chemical reactivity of explosives, which has enormous implications for the military.

Incorporating nanotubes into explosives, too, has great potential. Single-wall nanotubes have roughly 100 times the strength of high-carbon steel. Materials manufactured with nanotubes would have high strength but low weight — an important combination in the manufacture of missiles and other explosive devices, he said. Such materials have multiple uses across the military, he said.

Now, Mezger said, the center is working to build facilities for the synthesis and formation of nanomatter, including a characterization facility.

“What we’re establishing here is an industrial high-tech park on federal land,” he said. “We’re looking to populate it with people who have commercial interests and interests the Department of Defense could use as well. We’re actively trying to identify large companies that would come in and anchor the park.” The ARDEC is talking to several large corporations, he said, but the he would not identify them because the negotiations are not final.

According to the formal announcement the ARDEC circulated last month, the proposed center will involve several pilot plants that will “enable the development of manufacturing and synthesis technologies for a variety of nanometal powders, passivation and safe handling of highly reactive powders, mixing of nanopowders and consolidation and processing of fully dense nanostructured components.”

The notice says the Arsenal intends to build additional facilities to help bring research out of university labs and small businesses and into the development of military and commercial products.

Mezger said the center has a budget of $3.5 million this year. He said he expects the budget to increase next year.

New Jersey universities are now piecing together proposals for working with the new center.

“We have a great deal of interest and capabilities,” said Joe Montemarano, the industrial liaison for Princeton University’s Center for Photonics and Optoelectronic Materials. The Princeton center, he said, was launched in 1989 to work with the telecommunications industry, but it has been branching out into other research areas. Nanotechnology is now “where the funding priorities are,” he said, adding that the ARDEC proposal involves “interesting problems.”

“We are eager to work with them,” he said.

The Princeton Center is involved with a variety of different nanotech-related research projects, he said, notably in the field of silicon chip manufacture. Taking advantage of nanotechnology to shrink chips is one area the center may pursue with the ARDEC center, he said. The Princeton team may also address DNA analysis and high throughput screening in its ARDEC proposal.

Dilhan Kalyon, director of the Stevens Institute of Technology’s Highly Filled Materials Institute, said the Army’s decision to pay for a nanotechnology park at the Picatinny base is “exciting.”

“The Army has its own set of objectives, and the ability to work with nanoparticles is a big deal when it comes to energetic materials (explosives),” he said. “We’ll be able to make a whole new set of capabilities in this area.”

In addition, he said, the Army uses a bulk of high-tech composites for equipment and material. He expects the ARDEC center will perform a significant amount of research on composites that could lead to commercial products.

Dilhan’s institute performs a lot of mathematical modeling of crystallization. That’s one avenue the institute might explore with the ARDEC campus, he said.

“Our major concern is to learn and to generate the science base which we can then apply to other industries,” he said.


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