Particles so small that only the newest and most sensitive instruments can see and study them are being used to create new materials and devices that could revolutionize everything from drug delivery to sunscreens. That encouraging revelation comes from Robert W. Hunt, a professor of materials science and engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Troy, NY). Hunt heads a committee for the World Technology Evaluation Center that the National Science Foundation and other federal agencies have contracted to conduct a two-year, $400,000 study of nanotechnology around the world. Nanotechnology, a rapidly expanding scientific field, is in an early stage of development not unlike that of computer and information technology in the 1950s. Siegel, who coined the phrase "nanophase" materials, explains that new tools are letting scientists and engineers characterize and manipulate materials at the nanoscale level. For instance, he works with materials comprised of common atoms arranged in grains less than 100 nm in diameter--10,000 times smaller than grains in conventional materials. Researchers use them as building blocks to create materials with entirely new properties. Recently, members of Siegel's committee spent a week in Japan and in western Europe visiting sites conducting research on such materials. A report on their findings is due out this spring. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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