Nanotechnology: Hype becomes reality

Materials World magazine
1 May 2014

Rachel Lawler reports on a selection of developments from the 6th Annual HiPerNano Conference and Exhibition in London, UK.

From medical breakthroughs to space elevators, nanotechnology is fast becoming the modern world’s solution to everything. Steve Hutchins, Technical Director at UK-based coatings firm Keronite considered the nanostructure of ceramic coatings for aluminium, magnesium and titanium, and considered how these properties affect their use in space and aerospace industries. Space engineers have been treating light alloys with the coating, which is developed using plasma electrolyte oxidation to produce a coating consisting of complex nanocrystals. Hutchins explained that those nano-scale features have a huge impact on the properties of the coating and mimic natural substances such as bone, which is able to be very hard without being too stiff. The coating helps the components of satellites withstand the extreme conditions of space travel.

Professor Allan Matthews from the University of Sheffield’s Leonardo Centre for Tribology and Surface Technology, UK, discussed the impact of advances in nanotechnology in his field. He said that recent developments in this area had huge implications for all surface engineering and could lead to extended use of adaptive characteristics and self-healing materials. Combining nanolayers of different materials to create duplex coatings could also help engineers meet multiple functional requirements.

This is not only important to science, but it could also impact the UK’s economy. As Dick Elsy, CEO at High Value Manufacturing Catapult said, ‘Innovation is the only antidote to the recession’.