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The next technological revolution? PSU-Fayette conducts nanotech camp

| Friday, July 23, 2004

UNIONTOWN -- Area high school students were introduced to the small, small world of nanotechnology this week during a special camp at Penn State Fayette The Eberly Campus.

According to David Meredith, a professor at the campus, the nanotechnology program has been offered at Penn State for two years, and the camp is new this year to let potential students know what it is, how it works, where it's applied and why it's the next and possibly greatest technological revolution.

Throughout history, Meredith explained to the high school students, Americans went through the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s, the Information Revolution, which occurred with the help of the Internet 10 years ago, and now the Nano Revolution, which is bigger and, at the same time, smaller than both.

As the prefix micro is a millionth of any unit, the prefix nano is a billionth of any unit.

"It changes the way we do life," says Meredith, who adds that where engineers could once build a computer chip to fit on the end of a pin, they can now build a chip smaller than a strand of DNA and could build a chip 20 nanometers thick -- the thickness of three atoms -- by the year 2008.

Engineers also have created a painless nano-needle, which fits into a hole of an average syringe needle; nano-sized guitars and harps so small and playable that an orchestra of 1,000 of those instruments can fit on the head of a pin; and nano-fabric, which can be both stain resistant and offer fire protection to other fabrics like cotton.

To do such miracles, Meredith says robots and machines have been made to construct chips and machines that human being can't even see.

After Meredith's presentation and introduction to nanotechnology at PSU-Fayette, he took the students to Sensytech in Smithfield to see how nanotechnology is used for its electronic warfare, communication and industry development.

Meredith says he not only had the option of touring Sensytech, but three other such facilities in Fayette County that apply nanotechnology.

According to Joseph Segilia, outreach and continuing education director at PSU-Fayette, the purpose of the camp isn't just to introduce the students to the world of nanotechnology, but to let them realize that the technology is taught and used right in their back yards.

Students went a little further than their back yards on Wednesday to visit and tour the Penn State Nanofabrication Facility (PSNF) located in University Park.

The PSNF is a $32 million, world-class facility with 3,000 square feet of 10 clean rooms (which are 1,000 times cleaner than a hospital operating room), a full-support engineering and technician staff and also has academic and industry research, development and prototyping features.

Students not only got a chance to see the production and application of nanotechnology in Fayette County, but also had the opportunity to visit the chemical lab, for experiments to measure thickness of molecules in nano applications, and to the electronic lab, for discussions of nano applications.

Divito Corteal of Connellsville was impressed with the camp.

"I didn't know stuff could be made that small," said Corteal, who added that what he saw during the camp has stretched his future horizons a little further than his original study of computer drafting and design.

Michael Whiting of Connellsville, also an upcoming senior at Connellsville Area High School, has no clue what he wants to do when he gets out of high school, but what he experienced this week sparked his interest in the nano field; he's also interested in attending Penn State.

Not only will nanotechnology be part of a vast number of different things in our lives, but also required in many studies like chemistry, biology, electronics and physics, which Meredith says "gets funny" at that nano level.

With much learned and a lot much more to study with nanotechnology, Meredith offered the high school students a quote from Nobel laureate Horst Stormer of Columbia University:

"Nanotechnology has given us the tools ... to play with the ultimate toy box of nature -- atoms and molecules. Everything is made from it ... The possibilities to create new things appear limitless."

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