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FEI Sharpens Its Focus

For the past year, FEI's (Nasdaq: FEIC  ) stock has gone basically nowhere. It's fluctuated between $18-$26 a share, but is currently priced around $22, roughly the same as its year-ago price. But I've long been bullish on the company's prospects, and a series of recent developments has only bolstered this belief.

Last week, the Oregon-based manufacturer of focused ion and electron-beam technologies announced that it had appointed a new CEO. Don Kania was formerly the president and chief operating officer of Veeco Instruments (Nasdaq: VECO  ) , and he brings a great deal of experience about both the Asian market and the national laboratory system. With one-third of FEI's products being sold in Asia, and a sizeable portion of its equipment being utilized by federal and university laboratories capitalizing on the spate of government-funded nanotechnology research, Kania's experience should help the company capitalize on both of these big trends.

Yesterday, two additional announcements also brightened FEI's future. The first centered on a breakthrough achieved by FEI's most advanced commercially available microscope; the Titan 80-300 can now reportedly see images as small as 1.4 angstroms, using only 80 kilovolts of energy.

This rather esoteric-sounding capability is important, because it now allows researchers to view extremely light elements, such as carbon nanotubes, at very high levels of resolution, with a lower amount of energy. This makes it suitable for viewing a variety of materials, including other organic materials, which previously would have been damaged or otherwise affected by the higher levels of energy.

In more practical terms, this means that as GE (NYSE: GE  ) , DuPont (NYSE: DD  ) , BASF (NYSE: BF  ) , and others begin to incorporate carbon nanotubes and other organic nanoparticles into nanocomposites in growing amounts, FEI's Titan will become an increasingly valuable tool.

In fact, the equipment is so sensitive that FEI officials are even confident that it can be used to sample liposomes and other specialized nanoparticles, such as those Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG  ) is employing to manufacture better and more absorbent skin lotions; as well as nanocatalysts, such as the ones used by Headwaters (NYSE: HW  ) to convert heavy oils into lighter, higher-yield products.

The second piece of good news for FEI investors is that the company unveiled its latest dual-beam microscope, the Helios NanoLab. The focused ion beam part of the system can essentially etch out and/or mill samples at the nanoscale, while the scanning electron microscope part of the system can provide a detailed cross-sectional image of the sampled material.

Potential applications for this specialized piece of equipment abound in the semiconductor industry, the life sciences sector, and the material sciences.

It has been said before that "the whole is greater than the sum of the parts." When FEI's string of recent announcements is viewed in combination with the rash of other positive reports management has released over the past three months (including announcements of equipment sales to research facilities in Russia, Germany, Brazil, and Japan), a very compelling vision of future growth comes into ever-sharper focus.

Truth be told, the vision isn't very complicated. FEI is diligently working to supply new and improved equipment into growing market segments in the semiconductor, research-and-development, materials-science, and life-sciences sectors throughout the burgeoning international nanotech marketplace.

Let's get small -- more nano news:

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Fool contributor Jack Uldrich, as the author of two books on nanotechnology, has long been bullish on a "pick and shovel" approach to nanotech. He owns stock in FEI, Veeco, Headwaters, and GE. The Fool has a strict disclosure policy.

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