DuPont's Small Miracle

It's easy to think of DuPont (NYSE: DD  ) as a large, boring, old chemical giant that competes against the likes of Dow Chemical (NYSE: DOW  ) and BASF (NYSE: BF  ) . But after attending the opening session of the 2007 NanoBusiness Alliance's annual conference, I would encourage you to take a broader -- and more historical -- perspective on the company.

The luncheon speaker for the opening session was Uma Chowdry, DuPont's chief science and technology officer. Her talk was not focused on any cool, cutting-edge applications of nanotechnology, but rather a quick overview of how the "science of the small" was going to continue to add value to DuPont's bottom line.

She began her talk by discussing how a new nanocoating had yielded a 16-fold improvement in protecting electronic motors against something called "corona discharge." The point was that the technology had significantly increased the life of motors and, as such, was helping drive increases in DuPont's sales.

She also explained that the company's researchers were busily working on a new, more flexible Kevlar that dissipates energy significantly better than regular Kevlar by stiffening when a projectile, such as a bullet, hits it. The U.S. military as well as law-enforcement agencies around the country have already expressed great interest in the improved material.

Chowdry concluded by discussing DuPont's progress in the field of carbon nanotubes and noted that the company's ability to better control their dispersion was leading to impressive increases in the performance of field emission displays -- a type of flat-panel display. In addition to consuming significantly less energy, she discussed how the technology might help transition DuPont into a major player in the field of printable electronics.

These pursuits make sense for a company that has led the way in creating some of the world's most enduring materials, including nylon, Teflon, and Kevlar. DuPont began its existence in the 19th century as a manufacturer of explosives, but it reinvented itself in the 20th century and in so doing adopted the tagline "the miracle of science."

I don't expect the company to amend its tagline anytime soon to "the miracle of nanoscience," although it very well could. But I do expect it to profit from the coming nanotechnology revolution. It was clear from Chowdry's presentation that management understands how the "small" science will enable some very big changes in the century to come.

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The only miracle of science that Jack Uldrich is currently interested in is one that will allow him to regrow hair. He does not own stock in any of the companies mentioned in this article. The Fool has a strict disclosure policy.


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