A couple of years back, when I lived in Romeoville, Ill., I thought it was just a pleasant conglomeration of strip malls and rapidly expanding family-housing developments. Little did I know that a future nanotech superstar was just a quick SUV ride away.

The company is called Nanophase Technologies (NASDAQ:NANX), and it's one of the benefactors of recent nanomania. So far this year, the firm's stock shot up to near $15 from $2.40, before settling back under $9. Hometown pride notwithstanding, there are plenty of reasons I'm skeptical of my former nano-neighbor, starting with the meretricious and self-serving headline on its home page that declares "Nanotechnology Stocks Soar."

Before I have to get medieval here and reveal some harsh facts, let's be clear: There are great prospects in nanotechnology. Unfortunately, we're still a long way away from capillary-scouring nanobots or widespread use of carbon nanotubes that could simultaneously serve as a car's skin, fuel tank, and electrical system -- while cutting the weight by 75%. However, reality hasn't stopped dreamy-eyed speculators from throwing wads of cash toward any company clever enough to incorporate the magic syllables in its name.

For its part, Nanophase produces an array of perfectly respectable products, but none of them has the sex appeal implied by the firm's name. Like peer Altair Nanotechnologies (NASDAQ:ALTI) -- which also hit the jackpot recently -- Nanophase basically makes very small rocks -- crystalline nano-particles for use in products like sunscreen, foot powders, deodorant, and abrasion-resistant floors.

Unfortunately, the sunscreen and floor market didn't come through last year. For 2003, revenues ticked up just 2% to $5.5 million, while the firm increased its red ink at the bottom of the page by 9% to a loss of $0.38 per share.

Those results are hardly awe-inspiring, and to judge by the stock's recent drift, investors may finally be waking up and taking a peek under the covers to see who they're in bed with. Though it's probably a pointless wish, let's hope future nano-investors look a little farther than the company nameplate.

Now what?
For more, see recent Fool articles Profiting from Nanotechnology and Commercializing Nanotechnology. And consult the experts on the Fool's Nanotechnology discussion board.

If he had fewer scruples, Fool contributor Seth Jayson might change his name to Nano McFuelCel and start his own high-tech consulting firm. He has no stake in any company mentioned above.