PITTSBURGH, August 2 -- Nearly four decades ago, the sci-fi hit movie Fantastic Voyage featured a miniature submarine, complete with crew, which was injected into a human being to perform a life-saving procedure.
While it appeared fantastic at the time, according to Srikanth Raghunathan, President of Nanomat, Inc., such miniaturization may one day seem gigantic compared to molecular-scale robots that could travel throughout the human body treating cancerous tissues or repairing areas less than a millimeter in size.
"We are on the forefront of the emerging nanorevolution," said Raghunathan, whose company manufactures a wide variety of nano-sized powders. "Nanomaterials and nanotechnologies will touch all areas of our lives. We will use them to solve problems related to aerospace, automotive, biomedical, microelectronics and other fields, as well as to improve the performance of products. And we will do it one atom at a time." (That also happens to be the company's slogan.)
Nanomat, based in North Huntington, Pa., is the first manufacturer worldwide to produce large-scale quantities of talc and calcium carbonate nanopowders. Called NanoTalc and NanoCalc, these products have tremendous implications for major industries such as paper, polymers, paints/pigments, pharmaceuticals, sealants, adhesives and others.
Nano scale materials are typically less than 100 nanometers, or a fraction of the width of a human hair. They are fine-grained materials that may contain as few as three to five atoms. In most cases, they outperform conventional materials because of their superior chemical, physical and mechanical properties, and they exhibit outstanding formability.
"While medical uses for nanomaterials may be decades away," said Raghunathan, "there are immediate applications that can improve products available in today's marketplace, for example, producing plastics with higher strength and stiffness. Paint and pigment manufacturers can use these powders to improve gloss, cracking and water resistance."
Nanomat also produces titanium dioxide and iron powders. Titanium dioxide can be used in sunscreen lotions to block harmful ultraviolet rays, and in pills and lotions to make them easier to swallow and apply. Advances in biomedicine will incorporate iron powders in ferrofluids for targeted drug delivery, DNA tagging and improved MRI imaging.