WASHINGTON, Oct. 9, 2002 — The chemical industry, government and academia are working together to leverage the expertise of chemical manufacturers for the good of nanotechnology.
At the request of the National Nanotechnology Initiative, a chemical-industry coalition organized a three-day meeting near Washington early this month aimed at putting together a “roadmap” to guide the industry as it gets involved with nano.
The participation of the chemical industry is “absolutely essential” because the industry has broad experience in manufacturing small-scale products, said James Murday, director of the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office.
“They can bring a wealth of knowledge and accelerate the rate at which we can” use nanotechnology to bring about a “second industrial revolution,” Murday said. As nano R&D matures, he said, some of the biggest obstacles preventing the science’s movement out of the lab and into to the factory are related to difficult manufacturing puzzles. The chemical industry, he said, could more than any other industry help solve manufacturing problems.
From the NNI’s perspective, the point of the meeting was to get the chemical industry organized enough to help determine where investment money — federal and other — should be spent.
“We are not going to dominate the world” in nanotechnology research, he said. “We are 25 percent of the investment in this area. We have to invest smart.”
The meeting was organized by the Chemical Industry Vision 2020 Technology Partnership, a roughly six-year-old coalition of large chemical companies like DuPont, Dow Chemical Co., and Rohm and Haas. The group has cobbled together industry strategies in a variety of different fields. More than 143 companies, 70 universities, 12 national laboratories, 10 government agencies and five professional organizations participated in these “roadmap” collaborations.
Jack Solomon, director of technology planning at the Danbury, Conn., chemical company Praxair Inc., said the meeting was important to help “figure out where to go in nanotechnology.”
“This will help decide where the research and development investments are made,” he said. “It’s getting everybody marching in the same direction.”
The nearly 100 industry representatives who attended the meeting broke up into smaller groups on the first day. Each group spent the next three days wrestling with issues surrounding a particular topic.
The group dedicated to assimilation and modeling concluded that researchers should try to “link nanoscale properties across time and length scales, to specific macroscopic properties,” said Rajeev Gorowara, an engineer at DuPont Engineering and Technology.
To that end, the group recommended that the federal government create a National Center for Nanoscale Modeling, as well as a national data and model repository, containing common taxonomies, links to experimentalists and modelers and an easily searchable database.
Representing the manufacturing group, Frank Lipiecki of Rohm and Haas said nanotechnology companies “don’t have to start from scratch, because a manufacturing model exists” in the chemical industry.
Like most of the group representatives, Lipiecki said the chemical industry must pay close attention to the potential health and environmental problems that could result from the dispersion of nanoparticles.
“We really feel some risk here,” he said. “We are attuned to what happened to the biological engineering of agricultural foodstuffs. It poses a risk to this entire area.”
A key recommendation of his group, in fact, was to get involved early in shaping public opinion about nanotechnology, which would involve paying for studies to examine the health, safety and environmental affects of nanoparticles.
Catherine Hunt of Rohm and Haas, speaking for the characterization group, said the field is desperate for new tools, an opinion shared by many nanotech researchers. The chemical industry could help fill the niche, she said.
Government assistance, she said, is important. Hunt said her group concluded that funding for nanocharacterization should be about $100 million.
“We see analytical tools as a bridge to the nanoscale and back again,” she said. “We want to peer into the nano world, and do it better, faster and cheaper. We want to take tools (used by the national laboratories) and make them available to industry, and we want to turn them into sensors for these new materials.”
Paul O’Connor of Dow Chemical stressed the need for the industry to engage with the government much more about nanotechnology. Among other things, his “dispersions and nanocomposites” group recommended that the industry communicate with the government through new workshops, symposiums and organizations at an “order of magnitude” greater than the current level of interaction.
“We went around the room and asked who is benefiting from government involvement,” he said, “and the answer was ‘very little.'”