Saturday, February 25, 2006

Nanotechnology Revolution

There's a revolution going on in the world of science called nanotechnology and it seems to be happening without a lot of fanfare, although you may catch the odd news snippet here and there. Perhaps it's because few of us can relate to the idea of machines or functions being controlled and operating at the molecular and atomic scale. There are also concerns and fears related to this technology, such as the potential development of nanorobots programmed for malicious acts like warfare, biological, and technological destruction. The scale is incredible when you consider that a nanometer is one millionth of a millimeter... Full Story

Here are some definitions quoted from two sources:

"The development and use of devices that have a size of only a few nanometers. Research has been carried out into very small components, many of which depend on quantum effects and may involve movement of a very small number of electrons in their action. Such devices would act faster than larger components. Considerable interest has been shown in the production of structures on a molecular level by suitable sequences of chemical reactions or lithographic techniques. It is also possible to manipulate individual atoms on surfaces using a variant of the atomic force microscope to make, for example, high density data storage devices."
- About Now Physics
"Nanotechnologies are the body of theories and techniques that allow the production and manipulation of minute objects that measure as little as one billionth of a meter (the nanometer). These technologies require tools of very high precision to maneuver atoms one by one and visualize what is occurring at such a small scale."
-Lexicon Encyclobio

Nanotechnology gear chain examined by a mite

"Courtesy Sandia National Laboratories, SUMMiTTM Technologies,"

Although I do have a science background, I am not an expert in nanotechnology. Nevertheless, after dwelling on the subject for a while I managed to come up with a few scenarios where nanotechnology could have a pivotal role. I thought they might capture the imagination of some readers, and stimulate them to come up with even better ideas. In the end, it might be better for nanotechnology product ideas to arise from the grassroots consumer first rather than be purely laboratory inventions.
These are my own concepts for nanotechnology devices conceived from the basic concept without reference to any research studies. I don't claim them to be original (although some of them may be), and I'm sure that others with superior credentials have come up with similar ideas. One would think that the uses of nanotechnology will be virtually unlimited in the not too distant future, and so it's not much of a stretch to imagine many uses for these devices.

  • Nanorobots that remain on the enamel surface of teeth and also near the gum line designed to act as intelligent cleaning and dental health agents. This probably would require some sort of enamel and gum affinity or recognition etc. The potential for nanotechnology in the medical field is enormous and I believe the old 1966 science fiction movie "Fantastic Voyage" has been one inspiration for micro devices that could patrol the blood stream, clean blood vessels, destroy aberrant cells, enhance immune function, and perform other maintenance tasks.

  • Intelligent nanosensors in engineered load bearing structures such as bridges or skyscrapers that can act as warning devices by detecting the early microscopic features of stresses and strains that ultimately lead to structural failure. A bridge could then be repaired or reinforced long before there are any visible signs of wear or failure.

  • Nanotechnology hearing aids that won't be visible to the human eye. These devices might connect directly to the mechanical and neural anatomy of the auditory structures after a minor microscopic implantation procedure.

  • Nanocrystal arrays used in projection systems and nanoparticles used in projection screens for super high resolution video display in 2D or even 3D immersive environments. You might envision high definition visual systems that surpass reality.

  • Liquid metal that can form virtually any solid shape all controlled by programmed nanobots (like the Terminator). This one conjures up more sinister potential applications.

  • Nanomood changers with no side effects. These will be devised as the genetic receptors controlling various mood states become better understood. These mood modifiers might reside permanently in neurons, and then taking pills for mood disorders will no longer be necessary.

  • Nanomeditative state inducers that can trigger the gamma wave brain activity seen in those who are skilled in meditation techniques.

  • Near indestructible nanovehicles. Various nanotubules of various composition will be combined to create new materials that can withstand and absorb incredible impacts. Combined with nanoairbags you could survive a major MVA with no more than a few scratches and bruises.

  • Nanofuels will be invented that have incredible energy efficiency allowing machines to operate at prolonged times and speeds before refeuling.

  • Nanocleaning agents that will continually roam and scour various surfaces breaking down stains, dust and other particles - no more vacuuming etc.

  • Painless Nanoneedles - the needle tip size and injection shape could be molecularly adjusted for painless injections (temporarily create a tiny caliber tip to traverse the skin surface and then increase the needle lumen for an injection).

I wasn't under the influence of any intoxicants, stimulants, depressants, or other mind altering substances when this list was composed, so there are no excuses if it doesn't meet exacting scientific descriptions. Again, I would emphasize that this amounts to a layman's list for nanotechnology innovations. Luddites and technophobes might create a less optimistic list with some negative scenarios. Please leave your comments and suggestions below, especially those regarding any available, present day working uses of nanotechnology that you may be aware of.

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