Sandia Joins Nanotechnology Charge Into 21st Century

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Sandia and other Department of Energy national laboratories will venture further into the truly tiny realm of atomic and molecular maneuvering following an announcement of a "National Nanotechnology Initiative" by President Clinton today from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in PasadenThe initiative would increase overall federal funding for nanoscience and nanotechnology R&D by 84 percent to $497 million beginning in fiscal year 2001. It would increase the funding at DOE from $58 million to $96 million in fiscal year 2001 (66 percent more than in 2000).

Nanotechnology refers to the manipulation or self-assembly of individual atoms, molecules, or molecular clusters into structures with dimensions in the 1- to 100-nanometer range to create materials and devices with new or vastly different properties. For comparison, a human hair is about 10,000 nanometers thick. Scientists believe the ability to move and combine individual atoms and molecules will revolutionize the production of virtually every human-made object and usher in a new technology revolution at least as significant as the silicon revolution of the 20th century.

"The possibilities to design materials and devices with extraordinary properties through nanotechnology are limited only by one's imagination," says Tom Picraux, Director of Sandia's Physical and Chemical Sciences Center. Building solar cells containing nanolayers or nanorods could significantly increase the amount of electricity converted from sunlight, for example. Computer memory devices that take advantage of the "spin" of electrons could hold thousands of times more data than today's memory chips. Molecular devices that mimic processes within living cells could help doctors find or treat diseases.

Nanoclustered catalysts could help destroy environmental pollutants using the energy from sunlight. Sandia already has used ion-implantation techniques to create lightweight aluminum composites that are as strong and durable as the best steel available. Nanostructured semiconductor materials created at Sandia may enable highly efficient, low power lasers for high-speed optical communications. Biosensors that use molecular bundles similar to those found in living cells are being created that could warn people when traces of a chemical or biological warfare agent are detected. (See list at the end of this news release.)

Although nanotechnologies hold great promise, scientists need a much greater understanding of the special rules that govern how nanoscale structures behave and interact and how these rules can be harnessed to create materials and devices. Sandia has pioneered the development of unique force microscopes and other diagnostic tools that allow scientists to observe how atoms and molecules behave. Sandia's supercomputers, among the world's most powerful, also will play a role in modeling the behavior of nanostructures and designing new nanostructured materials.

The Department of Energy already is the nation's number-one funding agency in the physical and materials sciences; nanosciences and nanotechnology R&D is an extension of DOE's missions and is expected to produce new insights, materials, and tools that will bring thousands of direct and spin-off benefits to DOE's nuclear weapons stewardship, environmental remediation, efficient energy generation, and national security work.


Recent Sandia news releases relating to nanoscience, with downloadable color photos, can be found at:
Course on nanotechnologies:

Quantum Dots

Self-assembled nanospheres

Nanopattern Probing

Seashell-like Coating,


Super-sensitive Coating,

Biocavity Laser,

Metal-detecting Molecules,

Protonic Computer Memory,

Ralph and Linda Morley , Box 1951, Sierra Vista, AZ, USA 85636

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