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Nanotech Players Meet in Akron

Thursday, April 26, 2007 at 10:46 AM

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Some of the players in the nanotech industry have been meeting in Akron to share ideas and consider its prospects. ideastream's Mark Urycki reports.

You’ve probably heard about the futuristic nanotech machines or computer chips smaller than a human hair. But the present uses are a lot more mundane as Scott Rickert told researchers at the Ohio Nanotechnology Summit.

Scott Rickert: Can you make steel less likely to rust, can you make a refrigerator that doesn’t smudge, can you take teeth brighter or make cars even a little bit lighter. These are opportunities where products are being nano-ized today and the companies that are doing that are right here.

He should know. Rickert formed what one attendee called the world’s first nanotech company, Nanofilm Corporation in Cleveland in 1985. They make the tough ultra thin coatings on eyeglasses. It was a spinoff of research Dr Richert developed while a professor at Case Western Reserve. Half his audience at the nanotech Summit were professors or students, and here’s his advice to them.

Scott Rickert: Leave the university and start companies. We need people to do that. If only a small fraction of you take my advice do that do you know how good that is going to be for the state of Ohio?

One of the managers of the summit estimated as many as 100,000 Ohioans are already working in some way in nanotechnology. Consider the evolution of the 120-year-old Parma company GrafTech. They make graphite materials for blast furnaces. But their skills with graphite got them involved making parts for fuel cells. Graftech’s director of R&D, Lionel Batty, says graphite’s unique abilities to conduct or disperse heat led them to the next step.

Lionel Batty: A kind of spin-off technology from fuel cells is electronic thermal management. We’re making this very highly conductive, very thin film natural graphite material going into laptops cellphones, plasma display TV’s. And in that area a lot of Ohio collaboration, a lot of Ohio capability that we’re leveraging off of.

Author Jack Uldrich says Ohio is moving up among the leaders in nanotech business and unlike bio-science, not every state is trying to build nanotechnology.

Jack Uldrich: No, every state isn’t. I would say there are a handful. Massachusetts, California, Texas, New York, and then Ohio; those are the big five. Ohio just has a wonderful opportunity as a result of the companies and your academic institutions and then the leadership of the non-profit community, the Nor-techs and so.
MU: Are other states trying to be more -or as- multi-disciplinary as Ohio?
Jack Uldrich: No, they’re not and that’s Ohio’s strength. Ohio understands that nanotechnology doesn’t just apply to electronics; it doesn’t just apply to material sciences or energy. It applies to all of those as well as agriculture and transportation and the automobile industry.

Uldrich and others say Ohio lacks the big splashy R&D centers that get the national press attention. But they say the state is probably second to only California in actually using the technology to make products.

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