Ford Motor Company announced today that it is using one of the most advanced laboratory devices in North America to accelerate its nanotechnology research into lighter weight metals and plastics with greater strength, ultimately helping improve the safety and fuel economy of Ford cars and trucks.

The device, called the Local Electrode Atom Probe (LEAP), is housed at Northwestern University and is now one of only four such tools in North America. This new laboratory tool enables Ford to cut in half the amount of time it takes to analyze the molecular makeup of metals and plastics and determine ways to tailor the material to make lighter weight and more durable parts.

"Ford has a long history of research in the field of nanotechnology, and this relationship will strengthen our knowledge for the future," said Dr. Gerhard Schmidt, Ford’s vice president of Research and Advanced Engineering.

Nanotechnology is the science of manipulating materials at the atomic or molecular level — the size of a billionth of an inch. It is often referred to as a general-purpose technology because it has the potential to impact all industries and areas of society. Its use in pharmaceuticals, electronics and optics is rapidly developing. Nanomaterials, for example, are already being used in sunblock and cosmetics. Nanotechnology is not a product but a set of methods, tools and materials to make better-performing products.

Its use in the automotive industry holds the most promise and is expected to grow. By 2015, experts predict nanomaterials will reach 70 percent usage in automotive applications, with revenues reaching almost $7 billion.

Nano at Ford

Ford was one of the first automakers to apply nanotechnology to its products. Ford has been active since the 1970s in exhaust catalysis and emission controls, which are nano-based systems. Catalysts use nanoscale precious metals to increase the surface area of the metal, reducing costs and making them more efficient.

In 2003, Dr. Haren Gandhi, a Ford technical fellow in emissions and catalysts, won the prestigious National Medal of Technology for exhaust catalyst work. Ford also was an early leader in the development of scanning probe microscopes, which allowed scientists to better view matter at a nano level.

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