Analyst sees big future for nano

Nanotech will perform feats such as keeping Moore's Law alive, analyst says, though the nano label will fade away.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--Nanomaterials will result in stunning product breakthroughs and even keep Moore's Law alive for another 30 years, but the "nano" term will fade away within a decade, an analyst predicted Monday.

Matthew Nordan, president of nano-market researcher Lux Research, noted that nanotechnology is entering the mainstream and is already embedded in products ranging from insulation to pharmaceuticals.

Nanotechnology, a material science, is the manipulation of matter on a nanoscale. (A nanometer is a billionth of a meter. A human hair is about 80,000 nanometers wide.)

Nordan spoke at the company's Lux Executive Summit conference here, where he said that as nanomaterials become adopted by different industries, the "nano" label will fade away.

"In 10 years, or maybe five, if (you use) the term 'nanotechnology,' it will date you," he said. "Today's 'nano materials' are tomorrow's 'materials.'"

Nordan noted that the nanotechnology is leaving the phase of scientific discovery and entering commercialization.

As that happens, he said that companies using nanomaterials face new challenges and risks that do not relate to the basic science of developing products.

Specifically, he said there are risks relating to intellectual property and battles over similar patents. There are also "perceptual risks" over of the health implications of using nano materials, he said.

Nordan noted that in Europe, in particular, there has been an escalation in protests over the use of nanotechnology, similar to those aimed at genetically modified foods. A nanotechnology conference in France drew protesters last year, he said.

The health and environmental impact of nanomaterials is still not clear; research in both the public and private sectors is under way.

Despite any such issues, Nordan is bullish on the effect that nanotechnology will have in the next two years.

He predicted that manufacturers' supply chains will become far more efficient because manufacturers will be able to purchase sophisticated finished products that once were assembled by suppliers.

For example, General Motors has started to buy a molded aluminum car part from Alcoa--a move that eliminates the participation of its existing parts suppliers.

Certain medical procedures and drugs will become vastly cheaper in the next two years as well, transforming some fatal diseases into more livable conditions, Nordan predicted. For example a process called "thermal ablation," which relies on nanotechnology, shows promise in cheaply eliminating tumors.

Electronics will also gain a windfall from nanotechnology, although it's unclear exactly how, Nordan said.

"Moore's Law will persist at a minimum for another 30 years," he said, referring to the famed observation that the number of transistors on a given chip will double every two years. "It's precisely because there are so many potential routes forward that one is likely to succeed."

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