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Nanotechnology Research Opens Door To New Business

With $2 million from an angel investor and licenses from patents gained through nanotechnology research, Hongjie Dai has formed Molecular Nanosystems.
First, Hongjie Dai turned his nanotechnology research into patents for Stanford University, where he's an assistant professor. And now, with $2 million from an angel investor and licenses for some of those patents, he's used it to form a private company, Molecular Nanosystems Inc.

The seven-person company has produced a handful of carbon nanotubes at its lab in Palo Alto, Calif. The work centers on commercial applications in biotechnology, chemistry, and electronics. Nanotechnology is the science of building computers and their components out of molecules.

Stronger than steel, a tube is 2 billionths of a meter in diameter and conducts electricity extremely well, says chief operating officer Bert Fornaciari. "It's like a rolled-up sheet of chicken wire, where every intersection is a carbon atom," he says. "Depending on the angle you roll it up, it can be semiconducting or metallic." Although products are still two to four years away, he envisions nanotubes yielding chemical or gas sensors and a cheap, low-power flat-panel display for laptops or PDAs.

The company hopes to find strategic corporate investors for a second round of funding by June.