Nanotechnology Innovations for High Performance Motorsport 2010

I spent a fascinating, but ultimately disappointing day at the Centre of Excellence in Metrology for Micro and Nanotechnologies (CEMMNT for short) “Nanotechnology Innovations for High Performance Motorsport 2010″ meeting at Cranfield University today.

As with most Formula One races it started off exciting and trailed off from there. To be fair, it was organised by the Centre of Excellence in Metrology for Micro and Nanotechnologies, and metrology is fantastically important in any area of precision engineering, but the men in grey suits, grey shirts and even grey ties showed a lack of innovation when it comes to applying nanotechnology to high performance motorsport. What was potentially an  interesting agenda, in front of representatives from racing teams from across the region, including a handful of Formula One teams, was blighted by a lack of innovation, focussing mainly on metrology, and as one participant asked after sitting through an hour of optical metrology talks, “very interesting, but what has this got to do with nanotech?”

Despite spending twenty years poking, prodding bombarding and measuring the properties of materials with electrons, styluses, nanotubes, ions and X-rays I wouldn’t really count metrology as an innovation, after all we have been able to do it pretty well since the advent of laser and profilometer based techniques so most of the work highlighted is incremental.

Nor is High Performance Motorsport all about Formula One which has some very restrictive regulations concerning which materials can or cannot be used, and there are plenty of material innovations which can be proved at other levels, from dirt bikes to dragsters, and which will eventually work their way into the list of approved materials.

But it’s a start, and as Chris Aylett of the Motorsports Industry Association pointed out, Motorsport is all about R&D and prototyping, so even hand finished components are acceptable in a way that they would never be in the semiconductor industry. That in itself represents a great opportunity for nanotechnology which, after all, is all about the control over materials, and that is what gets you to the front of the grid.

So for next years event, here’s a few areas where nanotechnology can make a big difference:

  • Tyre compounds,
  • active heating/cooling,
  • monitoring of driver health/physiology,
  • smart or moveable aerodynamic materials,
  • low friction coatings,
  • lubricants/fuel formulations,
  • composite materials,
  • drivetrain materials (including ceramics)

One bright spot was that the usual health and safety issues also reared up, in this case about a few nanoparticles working their way loose from something travelling at 200mph which seems to be rather missing the point when it comes to safety issues.

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