NANOTECHNOLOGY, the science of manipulating matter at the molecular and atomic scales, is bringing revolutionary changes to the world of electronics. Now, a Seattle-based team of scientists, engineers and venture capitalists believes their year-old start-up company, Modumetal Inc., will use the technology to revolutionize a process that hasn't changed much since the industrial revolution - the production and use of metals. The company believes it can produce materials that are substantially lighter and stronger than steel.
If successful, the 11-member company could save lives by replacing the traditional protective body and vehicle armor used by the military with a lighter, more durable metal. In fact, putting the metal to work for the military is Modumetal's immediate goal as the United States struggles in Iraq to defend against such instruments of asymmetrical warfare as improvised explosive devices.
"We're working every day to develop a system that can help alleviate that problem," says Christina Lomasney, co-founder, president and CEO of Modumetal, who has a personal stake in the potential military applications: Two of her five brothers serve in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Meanwhile, the broader commercial applications are tantalizing. The metal the company is developing could be used in everything from cars and airplanes to garage tools and household products, infusing them with lighter and more durable properties, extending their shelf life and saving on a variety of costs, including fuel. Imagine making your own bold geopolitical statement by driving an SUV that is vastly lighter and sturdier than current models, and therefore conserves more fuel, treads lightly on the earth and is much safer to drive.