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Engineers look to scale up nanomanufacturing

BY Rebecca Jacobson  May 23, 2014 at 12:55 PM EDT

Engineers have been developing nanotechnology that could put tiny sensors in just about any material imaginable. Some of these sensors could be woven into clothing to save soldiers from chemical weapons, monitor vital signs from a Band-Aid, or make solar panels more efficient.

Making such small devices is labor intensive, so they are expensive to produce. Mass manufacturing flat, flexible sensors would reduce the cost, says University of Massachusetts Amherst chemical engineer Jim Watkins. He and his team at the NSF Center for Hierarchical Manufacturing are working on a roll-to-roll process to manufacture printable coatings.

“You can have something that both performs better and is less expensive. That’s really the heart of nanomanufacturing,” Watkins said.

Science correspondent Miles O’Brien explains how these future assembly lines work in the National Science Foundation’s series “Science Nation.”*

*For the record, the National Science Foundation is also an underwriter of the NewsHour.