August 1, 2016
NEW ELLENTON — Glass probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when cutting-edge technology is mentioned, but emerging applications at the Applied Research Center in New Ellenton could change that.
The research organization has developed methods to use glass microspheres in anti-counterfeiting efforts and in medical applications such as the administration of chemotherapy drugs for cancer patients. Dr. George Wicks, a material scientist, played a vital role in developing glass microsphere technology and is currently working at the research facility. The microscopic glass spheres are about the size of one-third of a human hair and, with the aid of an electron scanning microscope, researchers have developed the means to inject and extract material across the porous walls.
According to Applied Research Center President and CEO Fred Humes, the scanning electron microscope has the highest capabilities of any other in the Southeast.
He said the facility has usage agreements with nearby entities and researchers, including those at Savannah River National Laboratory, that gives them needed time to conduct advanced research on other developing technologies.
According to Wicks, ongoing research with medical professionals could prove valuable in the fight against cancer. He said the microspheres can be loaded with chemotherapy drugs and injected directly into the tumor tissue. The spheres are then activated by ultrasound or another catalyst and the substance is released directly where it is needed.
“Big step changes in technology often come from interdisciplinary research. A materials scientist working with a medical researcher can create big leaps in capability. The medical component is a chance for us to leave behind a contribution,” Wicks said.
Humes said other applications could make contributions to the economy and national security. A common thread between those issues is the threat posed by counterfeiting. According to Humes, experts have estimated the global market of counterfeit goods, including medicines and electronic components, to be around $1.77 trillion. Those figures also include counterfeit goods like passports.
“It only takes between 45 and 60 days for counterfeiters to replicate the holograms used on things like passports. We want to extend that out as far as possible, out to a year or better,” Humes said.
According to Humes, the microspheres could be applied to virtually any material, including paper, wood and metals. Humes said they could even use the technology to protect valuable fabrics in a textile mill through applications with fire retardants.
Research is diverse at the facility, which partnered with Toyota and Ford in the past for hydrogen fuel cell research. Applied Research Center owns and operates the hydrogen cell filling station in Sage Mill industrial park and registered the first hydrogen powered vehicle in South Carolina about 10 years ago. The center is also doing research into microwave technology, renewable energy and other ceramic and glass applications. Advanced details of the microsphere application for anti-counterfeiting efforts will be featured in the publication Bulletin from the American Ceramic Society.