Nanotechnology, A Revolutionary Undertaking

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Nanotechnology, a revolutionary scientific undertaking, involves creation and utilization of materials, devices, or systems on an extremely small scale, usually on an atomic or molecular scale, and is currently undergoing explosive development on many fronts. (see photo 1) These fronts include the creation of materials, medicine, electronics, and energy production. With nanotechnology, tiny devices can be created with single molecules or atoms. The reason this is so useful is that anything can be created and done on a scale so tiny. It can be used to diagnose and treat diseases, improve energy efficiency, create smaller and more powerful computers, and possibly even greater things in the future.

One part of life that has and will greatly benefit from the advances of nanotechnology is medicine. Nanotechnology will allow doctors to more effectively diagnose diseases and deliver drugs. It may even allow doctors to engineer body tissue atom by atom, which would be very useful in the case of infection, amputation, or the need for new organs.

Nanotechnology will greatly improve the diagnosis of diseases by how versatile nanotechnology can be. Small, nanosized robots or particles can be sent into the body with a computer built in. Whenever the nanobots reach certain cells that indicate some sort of disease, the cell properties can be relayed back to the doctors (see photo 2). Researchers at Harvard University have already synthesized a charged nanowire that can detect the presence of cancer. The reason this is superior to current diagnosis methods is because of its improved reliability. The nanobots physically go into the body and locate diseased cells, which is much more reliable than blood tests, urine samples or even MRI scans, all of which can miss important indicators for a disease. The nanodevices can enter cells and sample it’s properties, perhaps even interact with the cell, and send data back to the doctors.

Drug delivery will also greatly improve, perhaps even more so than the diagnosis of drugs. One of the main reasons nanotechnology can so benefit drug delivery is that nanotechnology has the potential to actively target areas that need treatment (see photo 3). With traditional drugs, when it is delivered into the body, it must circulate throughout the whole body, which consequently can cause side effects. With nanotechnology, this problem is eliminated, as they can be directed to a specific part of the body.

The environment is another aspect of life that will be greatly impacted by the advance of nanotechnology. Enough solar energy hits the earth in a minute to sufficiently power the earth’s population for a week. Extensive research is currently being done on how nanotechnology can convert solar energy into hydrogen in fuel cells. Scientists have developed a process that utilizes nanotechnology, which shows great promise in this field. Currently however, the energy production of fuel cells is very inefficient. In fact it is so inefficient that the cost of electricity produced by solar cells is four times greater than electricity produced by nuclear or fossil fuels. Arizona State University scientists have proposed to build arrays of antenna made of metal particles at a nanoscale level, which could concentrate light and make the conversion process from solar energy into electricity much more efficient and much less expensive than that achieved by silicon solar cells. These arrays of antennas could be theoretically placed on a thin film and laid across the roof of a house.

Nanotechnology will also greatly impact the ICT industry, especially in the aspects of size, energy efficiency and effectiveness in terms of computing power. Engineers have proposed to make a computer completely composed of nanotechnological elements. "What we are proposing is a new type of computing architecture that is only based on nano mechanical elements," said Professor Robert Blick of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The smaller transistors are, the more you can fit on a microchip. Consequently, the power of the microchip increases. (See photo 4) Another major benefit of nanochips is the fact that they are not affected by EMP’s. EMP stands for electromagnetic pulse, and these can be used by enemies to knock out all electronics within a certain range. This is why the creation of nano-sized transistors is such a significant advancement of nanotechnology.

Aside from current nanotechnological developments and applications, there are many speculations as to how nanotechnology will evolve in the future. One greatly discussed possible advancement is in surgery. With nanotechnology, surgeries could be performed without even having to cut the patient open. Since nanobots are so small, it is possible that they could carry and distribute single atoms one by one. This means limb reconstruction, organ reconstruction, disassembly of tumors and cancer, the repair of genetic defects and possibly even the halt of the aging process become possibilities. There are also several ways the environment will be affected by nanotechnology in the future. Batteries will become smaller and more powerful. Molecule sized solar cells can be mixed into road asphalt to collect solar energy in substantial amounts. We may also build nanobots that eat pollutants and contaminants, which could clean up oil spills and perhaps the o-zone layer.13 In the ICT industry, microchips will continue to shrink in size and become faster and more powerful. Hard drives centimeters wide will be able to hold enormous amounts of data, and eventually microchips will be able to be embedded in our clothes and even in our body.13 In the military, soldiers can wear a specialized suit thatutilizes nanotechnology. It will be flexible, and will be able to harden upon high power impacts. Clothes will be able to store high amounts of energy that will allow for enhanced speed, strength, and possibly even invisibility.

Although nanotechnology will greatly benefit many aspects of our life, there are still limitations to how much they can benefit us. In medicine, one of the great concerns of nanotechnology is that they are so small. Elements always behave differently when scaled down to nano sizes. Aluminum, a relatively harmless element becomes explosive when shrunk to nano sizes. Doctors worry that nanovehicles may be able to cross the blood-brain barrier, a membrane that keeps dangerous chemicals in the blood stream away from the brain. Nanotechnology isn’t always good for the environment. Silver nanoparticles that are in over 200 anti-microbial products can mutate and kill embryos of fish when they enter their ecosystems. Often, residues from these products are washed down the drain and into the ocean, contaminating ecosystems.

Nanotechnology is the technology of the future, and the possibilities that come with it are endless. Nanotechnology may have disadvantages, however the magnitude of the benefits that come out of it greatly outweigh the limitations. Nanotechnology will have fantastic benefits for all of mankind, and eventually could become the standard in all areas of technology. It will be beneficial to medicine and the environment, and enhance military protection and the ICT industry. Nanotechnologies potential for mankind is colossal, and should all of these things come true, the world will never be the same.

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