Below are some general examples of the vast array of applications of nanoparticulate dispersions and coatings. There are a number of applications in all of the categories below that are already in the public domain; however, most are still highly proprietary, especially drug delivery applications.

Cosmetics. An area of nanoparticle technology that has incredible commercial potential is the cosmetic industry (Crandall 1996, 251-267). Here there is a great demonstrated demand, and the technology can be made simple, since properties of color and light fastness are achieved by component mixing in the cosmetic preparation. A survey in 1990 indicated a worldwide gross volume of $14-18 billion for toiletries (Crandall 1996, 61), i.e., traditional hygiene products such as powders, sprays, perfumes, and deodorants. The large markets for sunscreens and skin rejuvenation preparations promise additional revenues.

The diet industry is said to gross $33 billion annually (Crandall 1996, 61). One way that nanoparticle technology is addressing this market is through introducing nanoparticulate taste enhancers into low-calorie substrates.

Medicine/Pharmacology. In the area of medical applications, finely dispersed pharmaceuticals offer rapid drug delivery and reduced dosages for patients (POST 1995). Dispersions of strong and resilient biocompatible materials suggest opportunities for artificial joints. These generally are ceramic materials containing nanoparticulates.

Overall, much of the demand for nanoparticulate dispersions and coatings comes from the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries; in particular, liquid dispersion preparations will be widely used to apply topical coatings to the human epidermis because they can be absorbed faster and more completely than conventional coatings.

Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS). Although MEMS technologies will support the semiconductor industry in particular, there are many other applications being explored, such as in medicine, ceramics, thin films, metal alloys, and other proprietary applications. In the United States a particular focus is applying sputtering coatings to achieve MEMS technology in concert with these applications.

Printing. In the areas of image capture/image output addressed by ink jet technology, nanoscience can help control the properties of the inks themselves. The production and use of nanoengineered ink products benefits from such complimentary technology as laser-assist delivery of the ink jet droplet to maintain an accurate deposit of the ink on its target (POST 1996). Another application in this field is using nanoscale properties to tailor the inks to achieve ideal absorption and drying times for desired color properties and permanency.

Semiconductors. One form of "bottom up" technology that is receiving considerable attention is thin films for the semiconductor industry (POST 1996). Here single atoms or molecules are deposited by physical vapor deposition, which could be achieved through sputtering, molecular beam epitaxy, or chemical vapor deposition. Sputtering is used on a large scale to coat metal sheets, glass, polymer substrates and other receptive materials in order to produce enhanced electronic properties for information storage and processing speed.

Sensors. Chemical or physical sensors often use nanoparticles because they provide high surface area for detecting the state of chemical reactions, because the quality of detection signals is improved, and because earlier and more accurate determination of leakage reduces waste. Some commercial sensors and actuators composed of thin films are already used for environmental vapor monitoring in reactors, for example.

Other likely applications of nanotechnology involving dispersions and coatings include nanofabricated surface coatings for keeping windows and surfaces clean (POST 1996). Here, the transparent nanocoating on a surface prevents fog and dirt particles from depositing on the substrate. Commercial products (achieved through gas phase condensation) also include aluminum oxide/epoxy dispersions yielding 19 times more wear resistance than conventional products.

Published: September 1999; WTEC Hyper-Librarian