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Pick up a piece of paper. It’s pretty thin, right? Well it’s actually 10,000 nanometers thick. Now take a piece of your hair. That is 50,000 times thicker than a single nanometer. For a little (pun intended) perspective, a single nanometer is one-billionth a meter. Our non-nano minds are collectively blown.

So how could the study of nano-sized materials, known as nanotechnology, make such a big impact on Oklahoma’s oil and natural gas industry?

About 60 to 75 percent of oil and natural gas is trapped in tiny pores underneath the earth’s surface. Through nanotechnology, Oklahoma scientists have mapped out these miniscule, subterranean pockets, but getting to them is tougher than it sounds, and precision is the name of the game.

“Let’s not hit it with a bigger hammer, let’s hit it with a smarter hammer,” says Dr. Mark Curtis, Research Fellow and Geophysicist for the OU Mewbourne School of Petroleum and Geological Engineering. “Let’s develop smarter tools, let’s develop more intelligent recovery, let’s develop better recovery.”

Curtis is on the cutting edge of nanotechnology and is pioneering its use in Oklahoma’s oil and natural gas industry. Devon Energy has assisted in the process by developing a nanotechnology lab at OU, where Curtis has access to high-tech microscopes and imaging technology that allow him to see the unseeable.

“When dealing with the typical optical microscope that people think about, you’re using light waves,” Curtis says. “Well, the objects we’re trying to look at here are well below the resolution of visible light, so we have to take advantage of quantum mechanics, and instead of using light waves, we’re actually using matter waves here.”

Matter waves have a much smaller wavelength than light waves, allowing Curtis to look into the nano-world to develop maps of oil and natural gas deposits.

Through his research and teaching, Curtis hopes to further develop tools and technology that continue to allow energy producers to extract the resources we need with more efficiency and less environmental impact, advancing the industry and the Oklahoma economy.

Stay up to date on nanotechnology and other advancements in the oil and natural gas industry at EnergyHQ.com.

EnergyHQ is powered by the Oklahoma Energy Resources Board – OERB – which is voluntarily funded by the state's oil and natural gas producers and royalty owners. The OERB provides free environmental restoration of abandoned well sites and works to educate the state's citizens about the oil and natural gas industry. For more on the OERB's mission and how it is funded, visit OERB.com.