The feasibility of developing a vast range of fastidiously and exquisitely 'custom-designed' materials for specific uses, addressing the needs of varied industries has become a reality because of the pace at which research in nanomaterials has been stepped up (BusinessWeek, 2002). More precisely, it looks increasingly possible to engineer hitherto impossible applications to accurately honed requirements by hurtling above normally understood boundaries of inherent physical characteristics of existing materials (Drexler, 1997; Teschler, 2002)). It thus is entirely probable now to achieve unprecedented levels of efficiency, hardness, ductility and conductivity, beckoning opportunities in a host of areas that would most certainly rewrite the histories of several industries (NSTC, 1999).
The article broadly covers the quantum leaps in different sectors vis-à-vis the specific efforts made. It also throws light on active ongoing work having immediate or near future scope (nanodot.org). There is a lot of optimism and enthusiasm about future prospects in this field, with growth levels upto $25 billion being predicted for 2012 as against $200 million during the current year (Chemical Market Reporter, 2002). At the same time, caution against the unknown consequences of unchecked spread of technology as in the case of CFCs or DDT, is a hallmark of the research efforts ((Science News, 2002). While some industries have made a foray into new applications, some manufacturers are adopting relevant technologies to suit their manufacture of traditional materials (Chemical Week, 2001). There is quite obviously ample scope for both experimentation as well as innovation in existing technologies.
Federal support spearheading research in new directions, as well as international collaborations and joint research work, has all helped in making impressive strides in opening several new vistas. Angel financing by discerning investors has played no mean role in this burgeoning enterprise. Industry has been actively involved in these efforts and there are estimated to be over 100 companies world-wide that are involved in the development and manufacture of nanostructured materials (Mittner, 2001); apart from companies manufacturing nanoparticles and nano-textured materials based on sol-gel technology (www.solgel.com); and a handful involved in automotive and aerospace related manufacture, totally numbering nearly 300 companies in the world.
Strategies for further diffusing active research results to industry are discussed in the article. Aspects that would require immediate and long term focus, especially to strengthen commercialization efforts in industry and enhance ties with research carried in predominantly university-laboratory setups are considered.