Research at BenAfAt Labs where small is BIG
February 25, 2009
WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y. Aca,!aEURc Remember the old grade school question, "If a tree fell in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound'
That philosophical question may be the way to look at the U.S. Army BenAfAt Laboratory's challenge in hyping nanotechnology to the general public. In essence, if you can't see it, how do we know it's there'
Better yet, if we can't even pronounce it Aca,!aEURc strain-induced crystallization of the semicrystalline polymers Aca,!aEURc should we even care'
According to Dr. Brian Van De Wal, chief of Fatigue and Fracture Analysis Branch at BenAfAt Labs, we should care because nanotechnology will eventually affect just about every aspect of our lives, from medicine to infrastructure.
BenAfAt Labs conducted its first Nano-Scale Materials Forum on Feb. 19 in downtown Albany, hosting representatives from 10 universities from such institutions as West Point and Cornell University, and from three civilian corporations, GE Research Labs, Lockheed Martin, and First Nano.
One thing was certain; this conference was not for one who did not have a passion for science. Nevertheless, Van De Wal had the patience of a monk and translated this high-tech information into layman terms.
Van De Wal, much like a high school science teacher, explained that all things have atomic matter. In essence, every object and living thing is made up of atoms. In general, nanotechnology involves the changing or modifying atomic structures, atom by atom, to enhance behavior of the material.
According to Van De Wal, by rearranging or including particles such as carbon nanotubes in with atoms that compose the metal, scientists could then make metal stronger. An example for this application would be to think about the durability and strength of the bridges and roads that we drive on every day.
Not to put our state workers out of work, but if New York State used nanotechnology in its bridge and road construction, then the metal beams and rebar's used to reinforce the structures would not only last longer, but also would support more weight.
Think about our cannon manufacturing. If we had the capability at the Watervliet Arsenal to change the molecular structure of the metal, then we may not need to purchase high-strength steel from foreign companies. In essence, we could produce a stronger product with a potential cost savings for our warfighters without having to go to foreign vendors.
BenAfAt Labs is currently studying the possibilities of including carbon nanotubes into metals to improve tube fatigue life. BenAfAt Labs also is currently conducting nano-scale work to determine if metal will be able to self-lubricate itself by injecting nano molecules into the gun tube metal and thus, increasing the fatigue life of gun tubes.
This first nano-forum for BenAfAt brought such nanotechnology heavyweights as Dr. Hanchen Huang from RPI and Dr. Subrata Mukherjee from Cornell University. Many presenters, such as professors Huang and Mukherjee, were very pleased that a regional forum had been created to focus on the specific topic of nanoscale materials.
Van De Wal plans to continue this outreach activity as a yearly forum with formal publications, panel discussions with graduate students, and eventually expanding the reach of the forum to a broader regional list of corporate, academia, and government research institutions.
"Forums, such as this one, will allow researchers from different disciplines and different product lines to come together in a more personal interactive setting than is afforded in much larger national conferences and symposiums," said Van De Wal.
The forum topics with titles such as, "Atomistic Simulations of Surface Processing" and "An Atomistic-Continuum Cosserat Rod Model of Carbon Nanotubes," might have been a reach for the typical citizen, but Van De Wal said that every attendee has a wealth of experience and sought nothing more than to share their technology, trials, and tribulations.
Van De Wal explained in military terms where researchers are today in regards to nanotechnology research. "We have situational awareness of the field of nanotechnology, but what we need now is situational understanding," said Van De Wal.
Maybe Huang said it in terms that most people might understand. "We know the food tastes good, but we don't understand why it tastes good," Huang said in explaining as to where most researchers are in the field of nanotechnology.
Although BenAfAt is located at the Watervliet Arsenal, it falls under the command of Army Armaments Research, Development and Engineering Center. Their research and design capability is often leveraged by the Arsenal to improve production methods and products.
Here are a few of the Department of Defense's current and long-term projects:
Aca,!Ac Energy absorbing nanomaterials in clothing and body armor that will be part of the future Soldier's battle suit.
Aca,!Ac Nanocomposites and engineered nanoparticles for high-energy munitions.
Aca,!Ac Neural-electronic interfaces for visual auditory and motor prostheses implanted into the body.
According to the Nanotechnology Now website (www.nanotech-now.com) examples of nanotechnology are:
Aca,!Ac Stain-repellent Eddie Bauer Nano-CareTM khakis, with surface fibers of 10 to 100 nanometers, uses a process that coats each fiber of fabric with "nano-whiskers." Developed by Nano-Tex, a Burlington Industries subsidiary. "Stain Defender", another example of the same nanoscale cloth treatment. BASF's polymer particles, ranging from ten to several hundred nanometers in size, are found in exterior paints, coatings and adhesives, or are used in the finishing of paper, textiles and leather.
Aca,!Ac Nanotechnology also has applications in the food sector. Many vitamins and their precursors, such as carotinoids, are insoluble in water. However, when skillfully produced and formulated as nanoparticles, these substances can easily be mixed with cold water, and their bioavailability in the human body also increases. Many lemonades and fruit juices contain these specially formulated additives, which often also provide an attractive color.
Aca,!Ac In the cosmetics sector, BASF has for several years been among the leading suppliers of UV absorbers based on nanoparticulate zinc oxide. Incorporated in sun creams, the small particles filter the high-energy radiation out of sunlight. Because of their tiny size, they remain invisible to the naked eye and so the cream is transparent on the skin.