Given all the attention to nanotechnology at Antec 2005, the Society of Plastics Engineers may have to rename its annual technology lovefest the NANO-tec conference.
Nanotechnology, or more precisely for a crowd of plastics techies, nanopolymers, continued to be a hot topic at Antec 2005, held in Boston May 1-5. These things are small - ``nano'' means a billionth, so a nanometer is one billionth of a meter. Ten nanometers is a thousand times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. Want more? DNA molecules are about 2½ nanometers wide.
For something so tiny, nano-EVERYTHING was impossible to miss at Antec. More than 100 technical papers contained the word ``nano'' in the title. Even when attendance was sparse at technical presentations, it was standing room only in a small meeting room for session W24 ``Nanocomposites: Properties Development.'' People stood in the hallway craning their necks to hear papers like Preparation and Characterization of Polyimide/Nanotube Nanocomposites and An Investigation of Metallocene and Ziegler-Natta Catalyzed LLDPE/Clay Nanocomposites.
On the Antec exhibit floor, PolyOne Corp.'s George Zollos noticed the difference. At the 2004 Antec, people stopped by the booth to ask questions like what are nanopolymers and what are their benefits? This year, he said, the questions were focused on specific applications: ``We're finding a lot of interest for it in automobile applications, but packaging and consumer products are areas that hold a lot of potential.'' PolyOne is in Avon Lake, Ohio.
It sounds exotic, but in the future, nano-sized particles will be used as fillers in common plastic products, nano-boosters say. One popular material, exfoliated nanoclays, improves barrier properties in plastic film and bottles. Adding nanoparticles can improve stiffness, or allow you to downgauge film. Nanomaterials also boost strength and the heat distortion temperature of a plastic part.
The experts at Antec examined nanotechnology from every conceivable angle. Amar Mohanty, an associate professor of materials science at Michigan State University, presented research about making ``novel green nanocomposites'' with as much as 25 percent soybean oil blended with unsaturated polyester and organo-clay.
Nanotechnology also made news outside of the convention center. During Antec week, the Massachusetts Nanotech Exchange held a summit meeting at Boston's Museum of Science. The group wants to raise funds for a fabrication center.
Now Ohio wants a piece of the nanotechnology pie. On May 10, state leaders announced a $22.5 million grant from the state's Third Frontier Project to create something called the Center for Multifunctional Polymer Nanomaterials and Devices, or CMPND.
The name could be snappier. Massachusetts Nanotech Exchange sounds pretty cool. But it looks like nanotechnology will reach fuel-cell status on the list of must-have industries for state economic development departments.
Everybody's seeking information. Call it the Holy Grail of Exfoliated Clay. Better yet: Manna from Nano.
Bill Bregar is a Plastics News senior reporter in Akron, Ohio.