Editorial Feature

Nanotechnology in Tennessee, USA: Market Report

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Tennessee is situated in the Southeastern region of the United States. The state encompasses a total area of 109,247 km2, and as of 2012, it had a population of 6,456,243.

According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the 2011 GDP of Tennessee was said to be $266.5 billion. Healthcare and manufacturing are the two major non-government contributors to the local economy. The main manufacturing exports comprise chemicals, electrical equipment, and transportation equipment.

Rationale behind setting up a new business in Tennessee include a high-quality workforce, low cost of carrying out a business, good location, and no personal income tax.

Nanotechnology Organizations

A short introduction to the main nanotechnology-related organization in Tennessee is provided below.

Tennessee Nanotech Alliance—Aims to identify the emerging opportunities and look into the challenges of nanotechnology across Tennessee. Its vision is to educate all sections of the population on the fundamentals of nanotechnology by promoting different research activities in laboratories, universities, research centers, and industries.

Nanotechnology Companies

The key nanotechnology-related companies in Tennessee are listed below together with a short introduction to each of them.

eSpin Technologies, Inc.—Established with the mission to create the technology to commercially produce nanofibers and nanofiber-based products.

Operating as a self-funded Advanced Research Facility, eSpin has partnered with many Federal Agencies and Industrial Partners to design unique solutions for functional textiles, filtration and environmental remediation, and advanced materials. eSpin works with its partners to improve current products, as well as to create novel products by tailored application of nanofibers to satisfy the present and future requirements of customers.

Currently, eSpin has emerged as an international leader in nanofiber technology with commercial manufacturing capabilities and products in the commercial space. At present, eSpin produces and markets tailored non-woven nanofiber rolls (nWeb™) for filtration and functional textiles.

Steward Advanced Materials—Founded on Steward’s tradition of over 130 years of making magnetic materials, ceramics, and alloys, including processing of carbon-based materials. It offers a wealth of technical capabilities and experience to assist its customers with their material needs. Steward supplies a complete series of magnetic loading powders uniquely designed for EMI, radio frequency, and microwave absorption.

It offers custom materials, as well as contract engineering and manufacturing services. Leveraging its expertise in moving materials from lab-scale to commercial production, Steward Advanced Materials manufactures these materials in an inexpensive and timely manner. Steward materials are used in a range of industries such as electronics, automotives, defense, and alternative energy.

Nanotechnology Research and Education

A few of the top academic institutes in Tennessee that offer courses and research programs in nanotechnology and nanoscience are mentioned below:

University of Tennessee—Nanotechnology-based research is carried out by various departments including:

  • Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
  • Analytical Chemistry Division
  • Electronic, Optical and Magnetic Materials Division

The University’s Joint Institute for Advanced Materials serves as a center for materials science and nanotechnology. The University of Tennessee also has other research centers that focus on nanotechnology. These research centers are mentioned below:

  • Nano Bio-systems and Bio-Mimetics Lab—Carries out nanotechnology-based research on the following subjects:
    • Bio-inspired nanomaterials for wound healing, drug delivery, and tissue engineering.
    • Bio-inspired devices and nanorobots for cancer therapy and cardiovascular disease
    • Bio-inspired energy-efficient actuation and propulsion mechanisms for automation and robotics
  • The Nano Bio-systems and Bio-Mimetics Lab provides the following courses:
    • Systems biology and complex system theory
    • Nano bio-systems and bio-mimetics
    • Medical devices, diagnostics, and bioinstrumentation
    • Principles of biomedical engineering

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL)—It is involved in nanotechnology research via the following groups:

  • Biological and Nanoscale Systems Group—Explores characterizing and gaining insights into the organization of natural systems at the nanoscale and examining how this organization benefits biological function. The group’s projects include:
    • Nanoscale devices for biomolecular interfaces
    • Nanosensing and actuation using cell mimetics
    • Molecular scale patterning of biofunctional surfaces through scanning probe lithography
  • Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences—Offers research activities to perceive, design, and regulate spatial chemistry, dynamics, and energetics that spin around the properties and functionality of architectures, nanoscale materials, and systems.

University of Tennessee Health Science Center—Supports research in nanotechnology through the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.

University of Memphis—Supports interdisciplinary research through the institute mentioned below:

  • Institute for Nanomaterials Development and Innovation—Promotes innovation and creation of nanomaterials and aids interdisciplinary research and education in nanoscale science and engineering.

Recent Developments

Undoubtedly, ORNL is a world-leading lab that is at the forefront of major technologies including nanotechnology.

Some of the latest developments achieved by ORNL are listed below:

  • Scientists at the ORNL and the University of Tennessee have shown that ion current can be scaled up by DNA translocation via carbon nanotubes. The scientists used molecular dynamics simulations to demonstrate that large electro-osmotic flow can be converted into a large net ionic current via an ion-selective filtering process by a DNA molecule inside the carbon nanotube.
  • Scientists used an electron microscope to record the dancing motion of silicon atoms in a graphene sheet
  • ORNL scientists have created the first high-performance, nanostructured solid electrolyte for more energy-dense lithium ion (Li-ion) batteries. Such batteries could also overcome issues with current Li-ion batteries that relate to safety problems with the flammability of their liquid electrolytes.
  • Through theoretical and experimental studies, scientists have started comprehending and manipulating the self-assembly of insulating barium zirconium oxide nanorods and nanodots within barium-copper-oxide superconducting films. This progress has implications on a wide variety of electronic devices.

Latest developments at the University of Tennessee are listed below:

  • Assistant Professor Jaan Mannik received funding of $650,000 over five years to examine standard cellular functions that could result in micro-and nano-engineered chips for live cell imaging.
  • They have set up two of the world’s most robust microscopes (the Auriga and Libra from Zeiss worth $3.5 million) that can be operated remotely as well. These microscopes enable slicing and cutting at the nanoscale, and imaging at the atomic level.
  • Nanoparticles have been captured from a micro-organism, which could be used in cancer treatment.

ORNL’s high-quality research will continue to help understand all things at the nanoscale. Some of these developments will have industrial and commercial influences in the short term.

In the meantime, scientists at the University of Tennessee will have to defend the capital expenditure on their new microscopes. This factor, together with the formerly unavailable potentials, will also mean that progress should be initiated by scientists from this university as well.

All this indicates that Tennessee could become a nanotechnology hub that should be watched closely for new developments.

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