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Mon, January 22, 2007 : Last updated 23:21 pm (Thai local time)

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Small science

Nanotech's Teerachai Pornsinsirirak believes Thai firms should explore the opportunities presented by nanotechnology in order to up their competitiveness

Dr Teerachai Pornsinsirirak, the deputy chief of the National Nanotechnology Centre (Nanotech), hopes more Thai companies will turn to new technology to increase their international competitiveness.

Teerachai's expertise lies in the nanoscale - "small science" - in which companies can create new products so as to differentiate themselves from the competition.

"About 50 Thai firms have directly or indirectly adopted the new technology resulting from nanoscience. For instance, we now have companies producing a special kind of silk necktie or batik fabric which is water-repellent.

"Given such a quality, it's more difficult for these nano-ties or fabrics to get dirty and contain germs. In other words, we've created niche products which are more competitive in the market.

"Another example is the nanopaint produced by the TOA company. The new quality paint is also sort of water-repellent, so it's harder for painted walls to get dirty," said Teerachai, who earned his PhD in micro- and nanotechnology from the California Institute of Technology.

Nanotech, a unit of the National Science and Technology Development Agency, has identified six priority sectors which could benefit from nanoscience.

These are food and agriculture, medicine and healthcare, energy, textiles and petrochemicals, chemicals, and Otop (One Tambon One Product) items.

One recent invention is the active packaging product, which allows a longer life for food and related items.

"These innovative packaging materials can keep food or agricultural products fresh for up to four weeks instead of just one week. Nanotech materials allow us to control the air and prevent germs from damaging the products," Teerachai said.

In the energy sector, researchers are working on a new type of solar cell using organic materials. If they are successful, we will have cheaper but more efficient solar cells to reduce dependence on petroleum.

In his opinion, the textiles and petrochemical industries are probably the best prepared for adapting to nanotech, followed by the food and agricultural sector.

Medicine and healthcare also have good prospects due to the large numbers of competent Thai doctors and scientists in this field.

"Electronics, engineering, chemistry and biology are among the fields that have benefited from nanotech. In biotech, for instance, we could redesign proteins or DNA to create new qualities or characteristics by using nanotech.

"In fact, nano-science is not completely new. It may be new in the sense that we've just been able to see things that we couldn't see before at the nanoscale [a billionth of a millimetre].

"Now we have tools such as the atomic-force microscope to see these very tiny things," said Teerachai. For example, a human hair is about 80,000 nanometres wide, a red blood cell about 7,000 nanometres across, a typical virus about 100 nanometres wide, and a strand of DNA a mere two nanometres long.

"We've also developed new kinds of sensors based on nanoscience. For instance, modified gold powder is used as a biosensor to detect germs such as those causing Sars or anthrax.

"In chemistry, various chemicals can be modified or re-engineered to create new characteristics, like those used for the textiles or garment industry," said Teerachai.

Nanotech, which was set up about three years ago, last week hosted the second international conference on nano/micro-engineered and molecular systems, attended by more than 300 international researchers in this field.

Teerachai believes it is necessary for all Thai enterprises, old and new, to explore business opportunities made possible by the new technology so as to increase their international competitiveness.

In coming years, he expects more and more local firms to improve or differentiate their products by turning to the "small science".

Nophakhun Limsamarnphun

The Nation

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