Sunday, July 31, 2005

What is Nano?

Earlier this year, my friends who publish the popular Forbes/Wolfe Nano Report listed an innovative golf ball produced by Buffalo-based NanoDyanmics Inc., as one of their “Nano Products of the Year.” More recently, I came across an interview in MIT’s Technology Review with Nanosys Executive Chairman of the Board, Larry Bock, who stated: “I don’t think golf balls loaded with nanomaterials should necessarily be labeled nanotechnology.”

Who is correct about the nano status of the NanoDynamics NDMX golf ball: the analysts at Forbes/Wolfe or Larry Bock? The answer depends on how you define nanotechnology. Mr. Bock said he prefers the definition of nanotechnology provided by the National Nanotechnology Institute (NNI), so let’s use that definition (which is my preferred definition as well).

According to the NNI, while many definitions for nanotechnology exist, the NNI calls it "nanotechnology" only if it involves all of the following:

1. Research and technology development at the atomic, molecular or macromolecular levels, in the length scale of approximately 1 - 100 nanometer range.

2. Creating and using structures, devices and systems that have novel properties and functions because of their small and/or intermediate size.

3. Ability to control or manipulate on the atomic scale.

Does the NanoDynamics NDMX golf ball meet all three NNI criteria? I believe it does.
Let’s take each of the criteria one at a time.

First, the NDMX golf ball is produced with materials that have been researched and developed at the atomic level. NanoDynamics teamed up with researchers from Purdue University to develop metals less than 100 nanometers in size to meet the unique specifications of the nano-structured golf ball. Unlike conventional golf balls, the NDMX golf ball has a hollow metal core, and that core has to be capable of withstanding the impact of a high-speed driver with deformation. Nanostructured metals are typically twice as hard and strong as their bulk (microstructured) counterparts. NanoDynamics used technology licensed from Purdue University to develop affordable metal alloys that could be manipulated at the atomic level in such a way to achieve the requisite combination of strength and weight in the NDMX hollow core.

Second, the structure of the NDMX golf ball has novel properties. The nano-structured ball spins less than a conventional golf ball and this particular function is due to the internal structure of the ball that is dependent on the nano materials used to make it. Having played a few rounds with various beta versions of the NDMX golf ball, I have seen how it impacts the moment of inertia to reduce hooking and slicing, as well as maintaining straight lines on a putting green. There is no question the NDMX golf ball has novel properties. The US Patent Office agrees with this assessment as well.

Thirdly, as noted above, the NDMX golf ball is manufactured with materials that are manipulated on the atomic scale.

As you can see, the NDMX golf ball meets all three criteria associated with the NNI Nano definition. The Forbes/Wolfe analysts were correct to include the NDMX golf ball in their “Nano Products of the Year” list this year. Perhaps Mr. Bock should consult with analysts at Forbes/Wolfe before he conducts his next interview. I think that would be a wise idea.

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