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The next big thing (is practically invisible)

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Babolat, a French sporting-goods company claims to have beefed up the swatting power of some of its tennis racquets with additives called carbon nanotubes, or cylindrical sheets of carbon atoms that are reportedly stronger and lighter than steel.

Another sporting-goods manufacturer, Wilson, adds nanoscale bits of clay to one of its tennis balls, supposedly keeping it bouncing longer by reducing the amount of air that seeps through the ball's lining.

Off the court, General Motor's newer Astro and Safari minivans reportedly have running boards made tougher by nanotech. German company Nanogate is building nonstick coating for glass and anticorrosion linings for metals. The firm says one of its products is a coating that allows graffiti to be easily and safely washed off structures. Nanoparticles are put in several brands of sunscreen and L'Oréal, the cosmetics giant, reportedly uses nanoscale additives to enhance its beautification products.

Of course, upgrades in cosmetics could lead to the use of the "First Responder" home-pregnancy test manufactured by Carter-Wallace, the New York based biotechnology company. The test uses gold particles (less than 50 nanometers in diameter) to help consumers read test results more easily.

Chengyin Technology Co. Ltd., a nanotech firm in China, claims to make particles that kill bacteria. The nanoparticles, according to the company's website, can be added to a range of products, including sinks and shoes. Nano-Tex, a subsidiary of Burlington Industries, provides Eddie Bauer and other clothing companies with what they need to make cloth stain resistant. Renee Hultin, Nano-Tex president for North America, says the firm aims to brand their product within others much like Intel did with its computer processor.

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