Molecular nanotechnology - The second industrial revolution!

Attribution: Tor Barstad
It´s been claimed that nanotechnology will lead to a second industrial revolution. That might sound like an overstatement, but I don´t think it is.

The most promising aspect of nanotechnology is molecular nanotechnology, which will enable us to build atomically precise structures. With help from molecular assemblers/nanofactories we can make raw materials that today are considered to be of almost no value into fantastic super-products almost for free.

This can help to solve our challenges of resource scarcity, global warming, and global poverty.

The animation of a nanofactory, as well as the digitally produced image portraying a nanofactory, were produced by Lizard Fire Studios (John Burch):, and funded by a challenge-grant from nanorex.

Nanotechnology is one of the hottest areas of science.  In recent years, academic and industry investment in nanotechnology has skyrocketed along with the number of patents and research papers that mention nanotechnology.  Nanotechnology is not exactly new.  After all, the tiny organelles within the cells of plants and animals operate at the nano scale.  Even some manufactured nano materials have been around for a long time.  For example, tires reinforced with a nano material, carbon black, were introduced during World War I.  What is new is the ability to design these materials in a principled way from the bottom up to create unprecedented structures with a wide range of applications, from tiny electronic circuits, to antibacterial fabrics, to sports equipment reinforced with nanotubes, to novel cancer therapies. 
A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter, or about one-hundredth the width of a human hair.  Nanotechnology is molecular engineering that involves the design and manufacture of materials with at least one dimension between 1 nanometer and 100 nanometers.  It is an area of research that draws from many fields of science.  Understanding how and why the properties of materials differ at the nanoscale, designing and creating new nanomaterials and determining how nanomaterials will interact with living organisms and the environment involves physicists, chemists, engineers and biologists working across disciplines.  Nanotechnology promises enhancements in health treatments and medical diagnosis, lighter and stronger materials, more efficient sources of energy and faster electronics.  Hundreds of nanoscale products are already commercially available, most of which incorporate nano-sized materials into familiar products to improve their properties.  The unique properties of nano-sized materials could also pose novel risks to humans and the environment.  Research is ongoing on the possible health hazards, potential exposure routes and environmental fate of nanoparticles. 

What excites researchers about nanotechnology is not simply the ability to shrink big things down. Nanotechnology's most powerful aspect is that at very small scales the chemical, thermal, mechanical, electrical, magnetic and optical properties of materials change. Therefore through nanotechnology it is possible to create materials with completely novel properties. For example, spherical nanoparticles of gold metal are red, and spherical nanoparticles of silver are yellow. Different shaped nanoparticles of the same metal are different colors. The novel properties of nano-scale materials are the result of two effects. First, the electrons in a nano-sized material are confined to a smaller space than usual. Second, because the material is such a small size, the majority of its atoms are on the surface where they are available interact with other materials. 

Nanotechnology Applications and Potential Applications
  • Aerospace/vehicles/sports equipment:
  •  carbon nanotubes to make stronger, lightweight materials
  • Biological research:
  •  quantum dots to fluorescently label and track molecules in living cells
  • Cosmetics:
  •  titanium dioxide nanoparticles to improve sunscreen
  • Textiles:
  •  nanofibers to make clothing stain-repellent
  • Catalysts:
  •  nanoparticles to increase surface area for chemical reactions
  • Drug delivery:
  •  nanoporous materials to carry drugs to tumors
  • Tissue engineering:
  •  nanomaterials to scaffold cells to help them proliferate to repair tissue damage
  • Environment:
  •  magnetic nanoparticles to remove heavy metal contaminants from waste water
  • Electronics: 
  • photonic crystals for use in integrated computer chips
  • Energy:
  •  nanostructures to increase efficiency of light conversion in solar cells
Molecules for the Media: Nanotechnology--Science Fiction Meets Reality
(#11842; 58 minutes; 9/25/2006)
Scientists and engineers are collaborating across disciplines to develop and network miniaturized intelligent nanosensors that can rapidly and remotely detect change in their surroundings. These sensors have a wide range of potential applications: environmental, medical, military and transportation. This workshop will focus on revealing the chemistry and physics behind the creation and application of these sensors. 

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