MU, Defense Department team up for nanotechnology research

Monday, April 16, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:55 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 8, 2008

MU will receive up to $10 million from the U.S. Department of Defense for a five-year research and development study of miniature nanotech devices that enhance Army weapons and defense systems.

Shubhra Gangopadhyay, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at MU, has begun researching the use of nanotechnology in a process that releases great amounts of energy in the form of focused shock waves, or nanoexplosions. Her devices combine microchip-based technology and nanotechnology to create a light, highly mobile source of energy production. The technology can be used for products including health and medical devices and sensors that can detect biological and chemical weapons.

“This technology covers an extremely broad range of applications,” Gangopadhyay said. “With the integration of nanomaterials and microchip technology, all of the benefits of nanoexplosions can be integrated into computer systems projects.”

Picatinny Arsenal, a military installation in New Jersey, will partner with MU’s College of Engineering to consider possibilities for Army technology. Mark Mezger, nanotechnologies program coordinator at Picatinny, says the program will be globally beneficial.

“We are entering a time where we have to find new ways to make higher-priced American laborers produce more value than their foreign counterparts,” Mezger said. “Those types of materials have applicability for medicine and medical applications, while we encourage it because it gives us new capabilities.”

The medicinal applications could result in drastic improvements in treating some of today’s most terminal conditions. The nanotechnology systems can be used to provide needle-free drug delivery, to disintegrate kidney stones, or even to accurately target and kill cancer cells.

“The same systems that can remotely and accurately detonate explosives are the same systems that can be used to release medicine and treat patients,” Gangopadhyay said.

Her group seeks the capacity to develop two primary materials, nanocomposite fuels and oxidizers, that create the nanoexplosions, and then teach buyers how to combine them for weapons production.

“This could overhaul the entire munitions system and allow troops to use lighter weaponry,” Gangopadhyay said.

However, Mezger emphasizes that MU’s role is solely for research and development.

“Nanotechnology is not a product — the university isn’t going to be building bombs,” Mezger said. “Mizzou is a research facility and they are putting in research capability, while we take Mizzou technology research and carry it through into the Army.”

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