Catching the nanotech wave


A team of engineers from Oceanit Laboratories in Hawaii are making big waves in the nanotech community with a nanotech-empowered surfboard. It’s a full-sized eight-foot-long board - or ‘gun’ as the real surfers call it - designed to ride the giant, storm-generated swells that pound Hawaii’s north shore every winter.

“Lots of boards break on the north shore very easily,” says Ian Kitajima, Oceanit’s marketing manager. In fact it was his boss’ broken surfboard that prompted the idea for their new invention. The two were surfing together one morning, brainstorming ways to make nanotechnology products that the public could understand and embrace. The surfboard broke, and an idea was born.

The Oceanit nanotech board is traditionally-made, with a foam core and fiberglass cloth, but it is coated with resin teeming with titanium nanoparticles that the company says make the board three times less likely to fracture and 100 percent more ding-proof - without impacting flexibility or weight.

Oceanit’s nanotech surfboard uses titanium nanoparticles to make it more ding-proof. Photo courtesy of Oceanit Laboratories
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“That’s always been the problem with making surfboards out of new material, like Kevlar,” notes Vinod Veedu, the engineer at Oceanit who designed the resin. “It changes the performance of the board and makes it inflexible or fragile in other ways.”

Veedu notes that many groups have been trying to produce a titanium resin for surfboards for years without success, mostly because of dispersion issues. “The key is in the proportions of titanium, and we just got it right,” he says of the closely guarded resin formula. Except for a slightly heavier viscosity which requires more work to get the resin into the fiberglass, the resin doesn’t change the design or use of the surfboard.

The new board is 10 percent more flexible than regular surfboards, according to Mehrdad Ghasemi Nejhad, director of the Hawaiian Nanotechnology Laboratory at the University of Hawaii and co-developer of the resin. “Surfers love flexibility, so our board has it all,” he said.

The nanotech board promises to ride like the wind and last twice as long as traditional boards - although that’s still just a prediction. While Ghasemi Nejhad and Veedu, the company’s senior nanotechnology engineer, have verified its greater durability and flexibility in lab tests, the board wasn’t finished in time for the giant winter waves that hit the north shore. The board has been in dry dock at Oceanit’s offices waiting to prove itself - with a list of volunteers clamoring to take it on a maiden voyage. “We put our magic into this board,” said Ghasemi Nejhad, “now we are just waiting for the next big wave.”

- Sarah Fister Gale