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Cedenna presents the challenge of Chilean nanotechnology before a Senate committee

October 14, 2015

Researchers from the Center for the Development of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology were invited to a recent session of the Challenges for the Future Committee at they discussed the solutions that nanotechnology offers to diverse problems for the country, the potential projects that would need support from the government and the current relationship with the private sector.

The director the Center for the Development of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, Dr. Dora Altbir Drullinsky, together with the alternate director, Dr. Ricardo Ramírez Leiva, and the researchers Dr. María José Galotto López and Dr. Abel Guarda Moraga, attended a session of the Senate Committee Challenges for the Future, Science, Technology and Innovation at the invitation of the committee president, Senator Guido Girardi Lavín, following his visit to Cedenna’s laboratories the week before (see related note).

In their presentations the specialists described the work carried out in the Center in basic and applied science and the development of their research lines, like active packaging to extend the shelf life of food products, and the proposals of researchers working on solving problems of water and soil pollution through the use of nanostructures especially created for this function.

The senators present, Francisco Chahuán Chahuán, Alfonso de Urresti Longton and Juan Antonio Coloma Correa (on behalf of Jaime Orpis Bouchón), as well as the president of the committee, were interested in these developments aimed at solving problems at the national level relating to important economic and industrial sectors like mining and agriculture.

Another look at rare earths

Dr. Ricardo Ramírez talked specifically about the possibility of mining rare earth elements in Chile from a strategic and economic point of view. There are 15 rare earth elements, known as lanthanides, with diverse chemical characters (located on the Periodic Table from number 57, lanthanum, to 71, lutetium,) that are found in the form of rare and mixed oxides. In recent decades there has been increasing interest in the magnetic and chemical properties of this group of elements in international markets given their essential roles in diverse industrial areas, such as auto manufacturing, wind energy and ICT.

There are deposits of rare earths in Chile, but the added value lies in the capacity to filter them. “These elements have many applications”, explained Dr. Ramírez following his presentation. “The problem is that they are sold all mixed up, but if we can separate them, the value will multiple. Currently, China is the major producer of rare earths but does not export them. On the contrary, it is buying output from other countries.  Because of this, the isolation of rare earths should be a national project”.

During the session Senator Girardi was also interested in the possibility of effectively certifying whether products that state that they use nanoparticles contain them or not. Cedenna is familiar with this issue given that measuring such small particles (a nanometer is a billionth of a meter) requires highly specialized equipment, and sometimes even though technical studies conclude there are no nanoparticles present in a product, the product label indicates there are.

The encounter closed with the issue of relationship between research and the private sector in Chile. Senators Coloma and Chahuán were very interested in this aspect and the solutions that need to be implemented to promote joint work such that prototypes of nanotechnology developed in research laboratories can reach private companies and be marketed.

Senator Girardi acknowledged the value of CEDENNA’s creating boron detectors and arsenic removers, stating that it is still necessary to make advances in the local production of nanotechnology-based products, and to do this, it is necessary to encourage the spirit of innovation in the private sector.

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