Almost every tech company claims its products and services will change the world, but few can make that claim as sincerely as those who work in the burgeoning field of nanotechnology. Most people know that nanotech is about making really small products, but few realize just how small. Generally, nanotechnology focuses on products that are smaller than 100 nanometers—a nanometer being one billionth of a meter. For comparison, a human hair is about 60,000 to 100,000 nanometers wide.
This tiny scale is the scientific playground of Gayatri Keskar, head of research at a leading materials-driven design consultancy and library, Material ConneXion. Though Keskar knew she wanted to be an engineer since the age of 10, she was drawn to nanotech during her final year of study. In an interview, she recalls, “I was quite fascinated by the potential of this field to revolutionize any industry just by altering the size of the underlying materials, offering almost infinite possibilities.”
In her current role, Keskar leads the development of the world’s largest library of innovative and sustainable materials and processes that can be used in a staggering number of ways, with almost limitless combinations of properties. Do you need materials that are soft, hard, waterproof, recyclable, flexible, scratch-resistant, insulating, conductive, printable, or even programmable? These are just a few of the possibilities, which is why the company’s design library serves businesses ranging from automotive, electronics, medical, and construction to fashion, interior design, architecture, cosmetics, and more.
Though she was familiar with the technology and scientific principles involved, these particular applications of advanced materials and nanoscience were new to Keskar, who in previous roles had focused on solving specific challenges in electronics and renewable energy. “I started looking at everyday objects through the design lens,” she says. “It was an eye-opening experience for me to learn and evaluate various material categories, such as textiles, wood, or concrete, that I have been interacting with all my life but didn’t get a chance to investigate in detail.”
Keskar is excited by the potential of nanotech as it enters a new phase of more mature research and development, not to mention real-world applications: “making everyday products smarter, faster, or lighter,” super-small tech to help “clean our water and air,” and “technologies that will help us analyze brain activity to understand how autism works, or how to potentially treat diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.”
She adds that recent innovations “provide specific performance benefits but also offer unusual aesthetic attributes and unparalleled design flexibility, allowing new organic product architectures which were never possible before.” At her company in particular, she’s seeing more interest from “boutique designers to top luxury brands in exploring new emerging technologies and exotic nanomaterials” to keep their products fresh, cool, and interesting in a market always hungry for novelty.
And this broad focus on smart technologies has led to some new personal experiences as well. Keskar marvels, “I never thought that one day I would be a panel judge at a fashion hackathon, or an invited speaker at a leading B2B beauty trade show.”