One of the keynote events at this meeting is a 4-day symposium on single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWNTs), those sheets of graphite rolled up into tubes 80,000 times thinner than a human hair. The symposium honors Nobel Laureate and nanotube pioneer Richard Smalley, who worked at Rice University in Houston. Smalley died of cancer last year at age 62.
Smalley’s students introduced each speaker at this morning’s session of the symposium in the Moscone Center, which dealt with possible commercial applications of SWNTs. One student gave a nice mini-bio of the first speaker, the University of Pittsburgh’s John T. Yates Jr., and concluded noting that Yates is "an avid amateur astrologer." She caught the gaff immediately, and said Yates actually is an avid amateur astronomer. Everyone laughed it off.
Yates used it as an opening, however, when he stepped to the podium and remarked that an astrologer’s skills might be quite useful in predicting the future market for SWNTs.
Smalley’s work on SWNTs in the 1990s spawned an enormous amount of research. Consider that more than 130 research papers were presented at this at this symposium alone. Issue after issue of journals like the ACS’s Nano Letters are packed with new discoveries about SWNTs.
Predictions about multi-billion-dollar-per year markets for SWNT products have been flying for years now. When some researchers gaze into those crystal balls, they see SWNT and other nanomaterials revolutionizing industries that include electronics, medicine, energy and plastics.
Smalley expressed that optimism in 2002: "The impact of nanotechnology on the health, wealth, and lives of people will equal the combined influences of medical imaging, microelectronics, aging, computer aided engineering, and man-made polymers in the 20th century."
The presentations in this symposium honor Smalley’s optimism, just as they honor a great scientist and teacher. All the indications point to a huge commercial and industrial impact from the small science.