Nanotechnology is perhaps one of the most important growth areas in the 21st century.
Nanoscience is the manipulation of matter at the atomic scale: 1 to 100 nanometers.
Nanotechnology is multidisciplinary, covering atomic, molecular and
solid state physics, whilst including much of chemistry. Nanostructures
exhibit some amazing properties that can help fight disease, reduce polution, enhance clean energy and offer humanity hope to improve life quality for people everywhere.
At the nanometer level, physical and chemical properties behave very differently to that expected at human eye level.
By developing new tools: atomic force microscope ( AFM), micro-electromechanical
systems ( tiny robotic structures), colloids, nanowires, optical tweezers, small cantilever transducers etc., we can manipulate and control molecules at the atomic level and create materials with unique strength, weight, colour and functionality. The electronic and optical properties can be changed to mimic or change the forces of Mother Nature herself. The Laws of Physics are not changed, but New Physics are unfolding daily where the behaviour of gravity and electrons generally at the nano-scale are leading to exciting new products and services. A whole new world of biosensing and radio frequency filters and resonators are in development bringing the material and digital world together in ways even Isaac Asimov could never have imagined.
A nanometer is 10-9 (a billionth) of a meter. The word nano is Greek for dwarf. To appreciate the scale we are working at, a human hair is approximately 100,000 nanometers wide. A red blood cell is around 10,000 nanometers.
So by simply controlling atoms and molecules we can create phenomenal new materials with enhanced functionality….imagine a secure metal ladder so light and strong it could bridge Earth with Space! Molecularly, a whole new chemistry of possibilities are starting out: Textiles that absorb energy and monitor health; the ability to hear temperature; measure and see aroma; build turbo-powered silicon chips that work billions of time faster than today’s; industrial energy from light; light killing surface bacteria; drinking water from air and dirt; implanted construction-type machines working silently inside our bodies to maintain and enhance health; average age 300- 500 years, second electronic revolution mating the physical and digital world as one.
Basically, there are three different types of methods deployed to manipulate atoms:
- Pick them up and move them ( or bottom up approach)
- Pattern them (lithography or top down approach)
- Self-assembly ( as reflected in nature, atoms that automatically manufacture greater parts)
With so much commercial opportunity and possibilities around nano technology it is little wonder that Universities, Governments, entrepreneurs and businesses are rushing to develop products and services that offer increased value and functionality. The US Government is investing $679million (figures from National Nanotechnology Initiative) currently whilst more than $1 Trillion will be invested in this new industry by SME’s by 2015. No wonder business analysts estimate that nano will be much larger than the ICT sector over the next decade.
Perhaps one of the most interesting areas of nano technology is Bio-nanotechnology.
This includes technologies such as tissue re-engineering, DNA execution and manoeuvre, peptide analysis, and protein-tissue manipulation. Taken Mother Nature as Source Code, bio-nanotechnology seeks to create “living machinery” or devices capable of being interfaced with live tissue. Hence we could see artificial limbs working in harmony with the living body, or insects mated with mechanical parts to control pollution, infestation or other environmental or military needs. These technologies will demand huge ethical debate as we manage to superimpose our will on the building blocks of Life as we know it.
Over the next decade there is little doubt that we will discover major innovations from insights into the nano-galaxy. Every sector of every economy will be impacted, from the food we eat, healthcare, longevity, communications, to energy, fashion, exercise, even human-brain development. By tackling the causes of disease and cell deconstruction we may actually be able to close our cardiac hospitals, reversing expenditure on curing illness and fatigue. Youth may be a driving status through the life cycle. One thing for sure is that once nano engineers manipulate natures building blocks of life there may be no limits to what we can create and accomplish positively and negatively.