NEW ZEALAND: University uses nanotechnology for adidas

The University of Canterbury is hoping to find big commercial success in a very little venture - using nanotechnology to imprint words on clothing fibres. The technology received its first public outing recently when it was announced the university had imprinted the names of all 1,073 past and present All Blacks (New Zealand's national rugby team) onto a single thread stitched into the Silver Fern on the breast of an All Black jersey.

The next step would be to print the names of as many as 100,000 fans on to a single thread for a special edition jersey in a campaign organised by All Blacks sponsor adidas.

The fibre imprinting nanotechnology was developed at the MacDiarmid Institute of Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology at the University of Canterbury and has been commercialised by UC's technology transfer company, Canterprise Limited.

The process was developed by Professor Richard Blaikie and research engineer Gary Turner at Canterbury. Professor Blaikie equated it to a "very, very, very sharp pencil" which could write 100 names per millimetre. Blaikie said the scale of the work was not particularly challenging - but the use of a thread was.

"We're used to imprinting on to silicon chip type substrates and so Gary and I did a whole lot of work to get it working on fibres. There were a lot of failures and head scratching. Then I thought we'd try something new, so we did and got it to work."

He said it was believed to be the first time nanotechnology had been used in a marketing and promotional exercise in this way: "It's very exciting for us. We're largely technology driven but to have an application that pulls us in a different direction is fantastic."

Adidas New Zealand Marketing Manager John Beckett said the 'This is not a Jersey' campaign reflected the iconic status of the All Blacks uniform in New Zealand.

"The adiThread initiative aims to help New Zealand fans feel closer to the team and to provide the opportunity to be more intimately represented by the country's most famous team jersey. When you put your name on the jersey, you are literally a part of it - the fabric of a nation."

The fibre imprinting technology used to develop the adiThread has been commercialised by UC's technology transfer company, Canterprise Limited.

* John Gerritsen is editor of NZ Education Review.