April 18, 2014

Nanotechnology

Small Steps

Amy Keller | 8/1/2006

NANO-PROTECTOR: Mike Kovac envisions using nano-technology to protect homes from storms.
In his 1979 novel, "The Fountains of Paradise," science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke penned a fantasy involving a civil engineer's quest to build an elevator from Earth to space. Today, three decades later, space ladders may not be so far-fetched, says Mike Kovac, director of the University of South Florida's new $4-million Nanomaterials & Nanomanufacturing Research Center.

The discovery in 1991 of carbon nanotubes, cylindrical carbon molecules 50,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair and 100 times stronger than steel, created building blocks with promise for virtually every industry, from warfare to weather. Kovac envisions one day shrink-wrapping houses with carbon nano-tube sheeting to protect them from winds or filling a sinkhole with the virtually indestructible material.

Universities in California, Texas, New York, New Mexico and Massachusetts lead the nation in nano-research, but several Florida schools are in the game as well -- investigating, for example, whether nanoparticles could sniff out cancer cells and deliver tiny knockout doses of chemotherapy targeted at the cellular level. In May, Small Times magazine, a Michigan publication focusing on nanotechnology, named the University of Central Florida one of the nation's top 10 universities for "industrial outreach."

Meanwhile, USF is also trying to make a name for itself in the nascent field and compete for some $1.3 billion in federal funding. USF's new lab sports a "clean room" and a powerful Transmission Electronic Microscope.

This month, USF will host the International Conference on the Commercialization of Micro and Nano Systems, which will draw about 300 participants from academia, industry and government from around the world to St. Petersburg. The conference will focus on microelectro mechanical systems (MEMS), which combine microelectronic integrated circuits with tiny sensor technology to create "smart" systems on a chip.

For the past decade, USF's Marine Science Center for Ocean Technology has specialized in creating micro-sensors that work in harsh environments such as the human body, water and outer space. Carol Steele, business development manager for the center, says the conference will highlight the local medical device manufacturing field and hopefully "provide a basis for an incremental leap in this community."

Jay Sasserath, CEO of St. Petersburg-based Intelligent Micro Patterning, a technology device company, says the conference is helpful because of its focus on commercializing the technology. "It's not just another place where research papers get presented."

Tags: Tampa Bay

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