Author: Yogi Schulz
Nanotechnology is a new science that is providing the tools to engineer organic and inorganic matter at the atomic level. Nanotechnology is about making ultra-small machines that are dramatically cheaper, faster and stronger. Many of the materials used to build these ultra-small machines exhibit completely new and valuable properties. Some of these materials will usher in radically new approaches to manufacturing.
Nanotechnology promises to revolutionize the way we treat disease, protect the environment, produce energy and build complex structures from small electronic circuits to large airplanes.
We are moving toward the capability to integrate biology with mechanics at the atomic or cell level much like the fictional Borg race on StarTrek. To suggest that nanotechnology will, in time, produce the same sweeping impact of the Industrial Revolution is not an exaggeration. Scientists and entrepreneurs are racing to stake a claim in the new nano craze, launching web sites, companies and innovative products. Two billion dollars of money from various governments has been pumped into nanotechnology research over the last two years.
The term nanotechnology originates from nanometer that means a billionth of a meter. A nanometer is the distance across 10 hydrogen atoms lined up in a row.
Nanotechnology goes well beyond the continuing miniaturizing of chips for products like cell phones, iPods and computers. Nanotechnology overcomes the limits of miniaturization by operating at the atomic level. Nanotechnology seeks to assemble materials, components and thereby products at or near the atomic level. That’s at least 3 orders of magnitude smaller than the historical scale at which science and manufacturing have been operating.
Nanotechnology has the potential to realign society, business and economics over the next few decades. For example, new nano-based composite materials could replace today’s fiberglass and carbon fiber composites as well as basic structural material such as steel, aluminum, plastics or wood.
Here’s a summary of the nanotechnology vision and its application in specific industries.
Imagine being able to separate oil and gas from water in the underground formation or separate the oil from the sand in the tar sands without spending billions on processing facilities. This capability will greatly reduce energy production costs. Nanotechnology-based molecular sieves will one day make this possible.
More immediately, Nanosolar is an example of several startups that are developing a new generation of solar electricity cells with unprecedented cost/performance.
Headwaters NanoKinetix, Inc. has introduced technology which allows catalysts to be designed and engineered at the atomic scale to achieve higher performance. These catalysts have the potential to increase yields and to reduce energy consumption in oil refineries.
MedicineRemember the 1966 science fiction movie Fantastic Voyage? In the movie, a team of medical doctors was shrunk and inserted into the bloodstream of an important scientist to clear a blood clot and save his life.
With nanotechnology, we can imagine incredibly small robots that clear clots or plaque out of arteries, repair aneurisms or heart damage and deliver medicine directly to cancer tumors to avoid killing healthy tissue.
More immediately, a start-up called LabNow Inc. has devised a blood laboratory the size of a business card that contains minute channels and sensors. The patient places a single drop of blood on the card, which is then inserted into a small electronic reader. Within minutes, patients can receive a white blood cell count that is often a crucial metric to determine treatment. Currently that test takes weeks.
No structural material is ever light enough, strong enough, cheap enough or sufficiently resistant to deterioration. Today’s materials lack of purity and uniformity at the atomic scale has always limited their performance.
With nanotechnology, composite materials will become stronger and weigh less with increased chemical and heat resistance. For example, automobiles and laptops will become lighter while exhibiting increased crash resistance.
An early commercial product, based on nanotechnology, is likely to be DuPont’s new Voltron, a super-durable wire coating used in heavy-duty electric motors. Voltron’s nanoscale particles fill in many of the microscopic voids found in today’s coating, making a stronger insulator that lasts at least 10 times longer.
The semiconductor industry, that makes the chips in computers, cars and cell phones, is plunging towards a fundamental size barrier imposed by the wavelength of light. Nanotechnology breaks through this barrier. Nanoscale structures, such as quantum dots, could move a revolutionary new type of computer design, with its promise of mind-boggling computing power, from theory to practice.
Korea’s Samsung Group plans to produce TV displays featuring carbon nanotubes by 2006. If successful, these nanoscale TV displays could be lighter, cheaper, brighter and more energy-efficient than today’s TV displays.
Nanotechnology is moving out of science fiction and the R&D laboratory. Nanotechnology is starting to deliver on benefits that have been promoted, over-promoted and hyped.
Welcome to a new world of improved energy production, revolutionary medical treatments, more capable materials and cheaper consumer electronics.
The Business Of NanotechThere’s still plenty of hype, but nanotechnology is finally moving from the lab to the marketplace. Get ready for cars, chips, and golf balls made with new materials engineered down to the level of individual atoms
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