In addition to all of the usual stuff I’m asked to do – blogs, for instance – I am periodically tasked with contributing to a special project or so. Those of you who read my blog of a few weeks ago about our “Industry Icons” project will recognize that this is one of those assignments.

We tend to go into these things with gloomy faces, knowing that it’s more work piled on top of existing work. But I have to say that this project has been very rewarding to me. One of my favorite aspects of this job is interviewing people and getting to know them better. This project has not disappointed.

I’ve talked to some very interesting people in the past week or so. Most of these were telephone conversations since the articles themselves are very short. But when I contacted Wade Adams, director of the Richard E. Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science & Technology, he asked me to come to his office, reasoning that “personal contact is always better.” A lucky break for me.

Adams is as enthusiastic about nanotechnology as they come. He spent most of his career in the US Air Force working on materials science, eventually becoming director of the Materials and Manufacturing arm of the Air Force Research Lab. It was during the final years of his tenure that he met the late Richard Smalley.

Anyone who had the unbridled joy of meeting Smalley knows that he was a “product champion” non pareil when it comes to nanotechnology. Smalley invented the concept of the “Bucky tube,” a nanotube made with nano-particles that exhibits unparalleled strength due to the fact that using nanomaterials hugely increases the surface-to-volume ratio. Adams was an instant convert.

After retiring from the Air Force he joined Smalley at Rice and now heads up the institute that bears his name. I spent almost an hour in his office being indoctrinated into all things nano, from “smart dust” that may someday revolutionize reservoir characterization to buildings that can support themselves energy-wise and reach astounding heights. Nanotechnology has the possibility to impact everything from hydrocarbon exploration through to alternative fuels and renewables. And that’s just the energy industry. Throw in biomedicine, space exploration, agriculture … you name it … and everything that involves materials science in our world has the potential to be impacted, hugely, by nanotechnology.

Many of the ideas he embraces seem far-fetched. Yet in just two years we’ve gone from dreaming about nano-fibers to actually considering producing them at a manufacturing scale. While some of the ideas triggered by the promise of nano are decades away, smart folks are already working on the building blocks to get us there.

Exciting stuff, indeed.

For more information about the Smalley Institute, visit