'Nanotechnology becoming part of daily life'

"The great secrets hidden in small pieces of material" amaze President Peres.

[DO NOT REPUBLISH]_370 (photo credit: Yossi Zeilger/Flash 90)
(photo credit: Yossi Zeilger/Flash 90)
From smartphone touchscreens, to the most advanced defense systems, to photovoltaic solar panels, nanotechnology has become an increasingly integral component of everyday life.
Representatives from companies in a wide range of sectors presented their innovative tiny-sized technologies during the Monday morning session of “NanoIsrael 2012: The Third International Nanotechnology Conference and Exhibition,” held in Tel Aviv on Monday and Tuesday.
Dr. Jonathan Goldstein and his start-up firm 3G Solar are beginning to use nanotechnology to perfect their unique type of photovoltaic panels, which are made with low-cost Dye Solar Cells – a layer of nano-sized titanium dioxide particles saturated with dye, according to the company.
Unlike standard photovoltaic cells, which are generally made of silicon or thin film, the 3G cells with titania and adsorbed dye act more like electrochemical batteries, Goldstein explained. Moreover, these cells are made of much cheaper, less toxic, more lightweight materials, and are less sensitive to cloudy weather, temperature fluctuations, orientation and shade, he said.
While their cells already operate in a very efficient manner, the company is aiming to continue increasing this efficiency, and is currently working in a partnership with teams at Bar Ilan University and the Weizmann Institute of Science to further develop the cells using a mechanism called Förster Resonance Energy Transfer, he said.
Espousing similar ideals of efficiency, but in an entirely different sector, a company called CollPlant is manufacturing a nano-sized product as an effective mechanism for orthopedic treatments and wound management. CollPlant is proliferating human collagen molecules – the most abundant protein the in the human body, only 1.5 nanometers in diameter – by replicating the five genes responsible for the protein in plants, explained Yehiel Tal, CollPlant CEO. Expressed in plants, the genes have the ability to generate the precursor to human collagen, called procollagen, according to the company.
“This is the basic building block – and for this reason we selected this molecule,” he said, calling collagen a “scaffold” for tissue repair.
CollPlant is now conducting a study in partnership with Maccabi Health Fund, in which researchers are treating 16 patients with diabetic foot ulcers using Vergenix, one of the company’s collagen healing products, Tal said.
Nanotechnology, a field to which Israeli companies like 3G Solar and CollPlant continue to be substantial contributors, involves making the most of something tiny using human brain power – something that President Shimon Peres called making “more and more of less and less,” during his opening address at the conference.
“All of this started with the nanotechnology,” Peres said, stressing just how much nanotechnology has changed basic scientific concepts over the past couple of decades. “Look at the great secrets that are hidden in small pieces of material but also [those] of chemistry, of connections, of relationships, of systems. And so I believe in the coming 10 years we will see a very, very different world.”
“We live in a world where the questions are not changing; the answers are changing,” he added.
Nanotechnology will be a key element of the global challenge to achieve environmental sustainability – and is therefore an integral part of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development’s Green Growth Strategy launched in May 2011, according to Dr. Francoise Roure, chair of the France-based OECD Working Party on Nanotechnology.
Roure’s group was established in 2007 as a subsidiary of the OECD’s Committee for Scientific and Technological Policy and aims to promote international cooperation to facilitate research, development and responsible commercialization of nanotechnology.
From last year through 2014, the working party will be monitoring and analyzing policies for nanotechnology, investigating how to gain economic returns from nanotechnology investments and monitoring the societal impact of nanotechnology, Roure explained.
One such societal impact – of nanotechnology and other scientific fields – is the cross-border cooperation that must occur in order to ensure their successful development, experts agreed.
“We live in a world where borders have disappeared in the science and innovation environment,” said Dr. Suzanne Fortier, president of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.
Students and researchers of nanotechnology and other scientific fields need to be part of high-performing teams all over the world, and governments therefore must promote the mobility of young people in these areas, according to Fortier.
“We need to be part of these strategic teams of researchers in public and private sectors to be a strong competitor,” she said of her own country.