Nanotechnology reviewed at conference
Jan. 23, 2004
Kevin Conron
Staff Writer

Dean Geiser/The Gazette

Benjamin Wu, deputy under secretary for technology for the U.S. Department of Commerce, says improvements in technology accounted for two-thirds of the increase in the nation's productivity in the 1990s.

Expected to


many industries

Imagine a world where you would never have to wash a window again, where clothes would be stain-free. It's soon coming through a developing field of science called nanotechnology.

In the 1968 movie "The Graduate," Dustin Hoffman's character was told the future was in plastics. Today's graduate would be told nanotechnology. And it was on the lips of many speakers at the recent winter conference of the Maryland Economic Development Association, attended by 180 people.

Held at the J.T. Daugherty Conference Center in Lexington Park, it was also a chance for St. Mary's County government officials to showcase Patuxent River Naval Air Station to visiting members.

A nanometer-sized particle is smaller than a living cell, but its implications are enormous. It will be a $1 trillion market worldwide by 2015, predicted Peggy Lewandowski, executive director of the Greater Baltimore Tech council.

The federal investment in nanotechnology R&D has increased from $116 million in fiscal 1997 to a request of $849 million in fiscal 2004. Private industry is investing at least as much as the government, according to estimates.

Clayton Teague, director of the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office, said it will have a profound impact on medicine. Nano-scale particles will make solar cells more efficient. Water and dirt will not stick to windows treated with the particles. It will further reduce glare on eyeglasses and car windows.

"It will make existing products better and will revolutionize the way we detect and treat disease,'' Teague said.

Donald McErlean, deputy assistant commander for research and engineering for the Naval Air Systems Command, spoke about "smart dust,'' using nano-sized particles, which a military unit could spread around its encampment to warn them of intruders. There will be "self-repairing people": A corpsman could inject a material into wounded soldiers that would organize cells to produce a patch, McErlean said.

The applications of the technology in an aircraft will be particularly helpful, he said. Avionics displays are getting "bigger and bigger,'' and could be downsized with nanotechnology.

John Savich, director of St. Mary's Department and Community Development and a member of MIDAS' board of directors, said members of the association, mostly from around Baltimore, came to the conference one thing and left with a different impression.

"What I heard was how amazed they were driving down Route 235 of all the company names ... such as BAE and Lockheed Martin and how strong the corporate presence is. It doesn't fit with people's image of rural St. Mary's County.''