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Their vision: a smaller world

As they prepare for a St. Petersburg conference, advocates preach the gospel of nanotechnology.

Published April 29, 2005

LARGO - Kees Eijkel would like to see technology disappear, in a good way.

That could mean a phone call without the phone, surfing the Internet without a computer or any one of a number of activities that tether people to machines, says Eijkel, president of the Micro and Nanotechnology Commercialization Education Foundation.

"I use the term vanishing technology," said Eijkel, who visited the Tampa Bay area this week. "In the end, you don't want the box. You just want the functionality."

In the world of nanotechnology, atoms and molecules make up the building blocks and researchers deal with materials measured in nanometers - one billionth of a meter. Despite its small physical size, nanotechnology has a big future, its supporters say.

Nanotechnology could mean more effective diagnosis and treatment of disease. It could produce longer-lasting batteries, faster and more energy-efficient gadgets, stain-resistant clothing and more effective sunscreen.

It could mean creating filters so fine that bacteria could be strained from milk instead of being pasteurized, giving it a longer shelf life. It could mean better golf balls, smoother makeup and sensors used by the military to detect bombs or enemy troops. Some of these products are on the market, and more are coming.

A priority at this stage of the technology's development is simply coming up with tools small enough to work with it, so researchers can delve into the microscopic world more effectively.

"If you can shrink down instruments to see what's going on in cells, molecules inside of a cell as a whole, you're going to understand the process (better)," Eijkel said.

"... There's basically new ways of making stuff, with all these insights."

Yet it is not without controversy. For example, this week a group at the University of Wisconsin-Madison was to release a report about "the promise and perils" of nanotechnology. Some groups want more study about the potential effect of the technology before it's further developed.

Eijkel says there is room for discussion, but not to delay the technology. He likens it to carpenters who can take wood and make chairs or guillotines.

Or, he says, what will the effect be if better medicine means longer life spans? And will those who can afford it be the only ones who get it?

"It's not the technology, it's the application that has social implications," Eijkel said.

Eijkel's organization ( will hold its 2006 conference in St. Petersburg, bringing several hundred representatives of industry, academia and government from around the world together.

Its vice president/Americas is Carol Steele, business development manager for the Center for Ocean Technology at the University of South Florida. Eijkel's visit was in advance of that meeting.

"We are always looking for places on this globe to do the conference where the people getting there are going to find interesting parties, an interesting environment," he said. "It's a really good area."

Dave Gussow can be reached at or 727 771-4328.

[Last modified April 29, 2005, 12:04:13]

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