Nanotechnology continues to show great promise.  Here we review by way of example the broad and potentially deep impact expected from nanotechnology as exemplified by key worldwide results from 1997 to 2002 presented below.


By Mort Wallach, March/2004
PEL Associates

The concept of employing material features on the near molecular level in the design of new products and devices was first mentioned by Prof. Feynman at Cal. Tech in the late 1960s. This was the first specific reference to the potential of working with materials of the order of a billionth of a meter in size.

The first targeted organized nano research began in Japan in the early eighties at Toyota’s Research Laboratories. This effort was aimed at improved polymeric materials for automotive applications.

Since the early nineties nanotechnology research efforts have progressively expanded worldwide to where it is now a very important area of activity with major new developments almost daily.

Progress has been made in nanocomposites, nanofoams, nanowires, nanoparticles, nanoelectrolytic systems, nano pattern transfer, 3D nanocomposites, nanocoatings, nanoarrays, nanodomains, nanotubes, nanomedicine, nanoscopic hybrids, and nanoholography.

These areas of nanotechnology have potential in various industries including: automotive, electronics, defense, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, photonics, information technology, appliances, etc., with applications such as: controlled release systems, magnetic storage, paints and coatings, porous films, 3D memory storage and permanent recording, photolithographic patterning, diffractive optics, electro-optical devices, information storage, tailored composites, lithographic templates, electrostatic spray painting of automotive exteriors, gene therapy, detecting and killing pre-malignant and cancerous changes, tougher and lighter automotive parts, improved gas barrier films, and enhanced flame retardants, fuel tanks, and coatings for scratch resistance, improved auto exterior and interior panels for reduced weight (fuel savings), and better dim. stability, stiffness and low temp. impact resistance, new electronic devices with greater on-chip device densities and smaller electronic circuit dimensions, optoelectronics (e.g., emissive layer in LEDs), microelectronic interlayer dielectrics, and electro-optic devices based on switchable holograms..

These early discoveries represent a springboard and resource from which new work can evolve. It is still early in the game, and many avenues have not yet gone to commercial practice, and new innovations remain to be made and developed into useful knowledge and products.

Many research institutes were established worldwide and the work to date suggests that there is an array of fruitful possibilities for practically useful results.

A summary of key developments in nanotechnology follows. Further details can be found on our web site at, and in our books and newsletters.

Institutes Established/Some Examples

An institute was recently established at MIT in collaboration with the U.S. Army providing $50M seed money.

A collaborative program on nanotechnology applications to semiconductors is being established at SUNY-Albany in collaboration with the Sematech consortium (providing $300M) and a Japanese semiconductor tooling company (Tokyo Electron providing $300M), the state (~$100M), and IBM ($150M) over five years.

Consortia have also been established by NIST and EPIC, and several others institutes have been set up via NSF for basic research at various universities.

Key details of nanotechnology research and development from 1997-2003 are summarized below:


New polymer nanowires were obtained on silicon wafer surfaces which could lead to the fabrication of polymer nanodevices for use in electronics, defense, pharmaceutical or biotechnology applications (Duke U.).

Functional Nanoparticles and Coatings
Functionalized Pd and CdS nanoparticles have potential in catalysis, optical and electronic devices (Eindhoven U.).

Smart sensors and coatings for industry and defense (PEL Associates).

Nanotechnology Via Polyelectrolyte Multilayers
This approach has potential applications in photonic, electronic, sensing and controlled release systems (Several Universities).

Nano-pattern transfer
This method has possible applications in magnetic storage and advanced electronics (IBM).


New monomeric routes to nanocomposites for PMMA transparent paints and coatings.

3D Nanocomposites
New core/shell route to nanocomposites offers a variety of potential applications including porous films, 3D memory storage and permanent recording.

New nanocomposite fluoropolymer-silica coatings via the sol-gel process yielded glass adhering systems which have potential in antifouling, photolithographic patterning, and protection from moisture.

New ordered arrays of inorganic cores in thin polystyrene film with potential applications including: diffractive optics, electro-optical devices, information storage, and tailored composites.

Electric field oriented copolymer (PS/PMMA) domains normal to an interface offer potential applications in lithographic templates (U.Mass.).

Nanotube polymer composites for electrostatic spray painting of automotive exteriors.

Dendrimer engineered on a nanomer scale decorated with DNA as a safer alternative to viral transporters for gene therapy (U. Michigan).

Dendrimer devices to infiltrate living cells to detect pre-malignant and cancerous changes and then when such a threat is sensed it releases a substance to kill the cell (U. Michigan).


Mineral filled nanocomposites with applications in tougher and lighter automotive parts, improved gas barrier films, and enhanced flame retardants.

Work at NIST, and EPIC consortia involved barrier properties, FR and auto applications such as nylon fuel tanks, and coatings for scratch resistance.

Work at GM/Montell involved improved auto exterior and interior panels for reduced weight (fuel savings) better dim. stability, stiffness and low temp. impact resistance.

New hyperbranched nanofoams as alternatives to vapor deposited silicon dioxide with low dielectric constant and robust thermal and mechanical features. These advances have potential in new electronic devices with greater on-chip device densities and smaller
electronic circuit dimensions. This development could reduce signal delays and crosstalk which result from greater on-chip device densities and smaller circuit dimensions.

Polymer nanotube composites with conjugated polymers with promise in optoelectronics (e.g., emissive layer in LEDs).

Nanowires using silver coated DNA molecules forming a DNA bridge by attaching two different oligonucleotides to two gold electrodes. This approach could lead to nanoscale electronic devices.


New polymer composites with nanoscopic silicate minerals exhibit improved properties including flame retardance, structural characteristics, and gas barrier features. Markets include automotive, appliances and electrical applications (Cornell/Important early work of Giannelis).

Nanoscopic Hybrids
Nanoscopic organic-inorganic hybrids of polyimide/silica were developed for application to microelectronic interlayer dielectrics. These hybrids offer low dielectric constant, high modulus, and the sol/gel process which allows material incorporation (IBM).

Novel nanostructures of polymer dispersed liquid crystals (PDLC) obtained via holographic polymerization have potential application in a variety of electro-optic devices based on switchable holograms. These include switches for optical fiber networks, recording of projection images in PDLCs, switchable holographic lenses, and full color reflective displays. (WPAFB).