The Future is Coming Sooner Than You Think
Nanotechnology, sometimes shortened to nanotech, refers to a field of applied science
whose theme is the control of matter on an atomic and molecular scale. Generally
nanotechnology deals with structures 100 nanometers or smaller, and involves developing
materials or devices within that size.
Nanotechnology is an umbrella term that encompasses all fields of science that operate on the
nanoscale. Nanotechnology is an extremely diverse and multidisciplinary field, ranging from
novel extensions of conventional device physics, to completely new approaches based
upon molecular self-assembly, to developing new materials with dimensions on the
nanoscale, or the scale of nothing, even to speculation on whether we can directly control
matter on the atomic scale.
Nanotechnology has the potential to create many new materials and devices with wideranging applications, such as in medicine, electronics, and energy production. On the other
hand, nanotechnology raises many of the same issues as with any introduction of new
technology, including concerns about the toxicity and environmental impact of
nanomaterials, and their potential effects on global economics
HOW NEW IS NANOTECHNOLOGY?
Nanotechnology was first introduced in 1959, in a talk by the Nobel
Prize-winning physicist , entitled "There's Plenty of Room at the
Bottom". Richard Feynman proposed using a set of conventional-sized
robot arms to construct a replica of themselves, but one-tenth the
original size, then using that new set of arms to manufacture an even
smaller set, and so on, until the molecular scale is reached. If we had
many millions or billions of such molecular-scale arms, we could
program them to work together to create macro-scale products built
from individual molecules — a "bottom-up manufacturing" technique, Richard Feynman
as opposed to the usual technique of cutting away material until you
have a completed component or product — "top-down
In 1986, K. Eric Drexler wrote "Engines of Creation" and introduced
the term nanotechnology. Scientific research really expanded over the
last decade. Inventors and corporations aren't far behind -- today, more
than 13,000 patents registered with the U.S. Patent Office have the
word "nano" in them.
K. Eric Drexler
WHAT IS NANOTECHNOLOGY?
A basic definition:
Nanotechnology is the engineering of functional systems at the molecular scale. This
covers both current work and concepts that are more advanced.
In its original sense, 'nanotechnology' refers to the projected ability to construct items from
the bottom up, using techniques and tools being developed today to make complete, high
The U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative defines nanotechnology as:
“The science, engineering, and technology related to the understanding and control of
matter at the length scale of approximately 1 to 100 nanometers.”
One nanometer (nm) is one billionth, or 10-9 of a meter. For comparison purposes, the width
of an average hair is 100,000 nanometers. Human blood cells are 2,000 to 5,000 nm long, a
strand of DNA has a diameter of 2.5 nm, and a line of ten hydrogen atoms is one nm.2 The
last three statistics are especially enlightening. First, even within a blood cell there is a great
deal of room at the nanoscale. Nanotechnology therefore holds out the promise of
manipulating individual cell structure and function. Second, the ability tounderstand and
manipulate matter at the level of one nanometer is closely related to the ability to understand
and manipulate both matter and life at their most basic levels: the atom and the organic
molecules that make up DNA.
Two main approaches are used in nanotechnology. In the "bottom-up" approach, materials
and devices are built from molecularcomponents which assemble themselves chemically by
principles of molecular recognition. In the "top-down" approach, nano-objects are
constructed from larger entities without atomic-level control.
HOW NANOTECHNOLOGY WORKS?
There's an unprecedented multidisciplinary convergence of scientists dedicated to the study
of a world so small, we can't see it -- even with a light microscope. That world is the field of
nanotechnology, the realm of atoms and nanostructures. Nanotechnology is so new; no one is
really sure what will come of it. Even so, predictions range from the ability to reproduce
things like diamonds and food to the world being devoured by self-replicating nanorobots.
As small as a nanometer is, it's still large compared to the atomic scale. An atom has a
diameter of about 0.1 nm. An atom's nucleus is much smaller -- about 0.00001 nm. Atoms are
the building blocks for all matter in our universe. You and everything around you are made of
atoms. Nature has perfected the science of manufacturing matter molecularly. For instance,
our bodies are assembled in a specific manner from millions of living cells. Cells are nature's
nanomachines. At the atomic scale, elements are at their most basic level. On the nanoscale,
we can potentially put these atoms together to make almost anything.
PRODUCTS WITH NANOTECHNOLOGY
You might be surprised to find out how many products on the market are already benefiting
Sunscreen - Many sunscreens contain nanoparticles of
zinc oxide or titanium oxide. Oldersunscreen formulas
use larger particles, which is what gives most
sunscreens their whitish color. Smaller particles are
less visible, meaning that when you rub the sunscreen
into your skin, it doesn't give you a whitish tinge.
Self-cleaning glass - A company called Pilkington Ingredients like zinc oxide can leave a
white sheen behind. But sunscreens with
offers a product they call Activ Glass, which uses
zinc oxide nanoparticles rub on clear.
nanoparticles to make the glass photocatalytic
and hydrophilic. The photocatalytic effect means that when UV radiation from
light hits the glass, nanoparticles become energized and begin to break down and
loosen organic molecules on the glass (in other words, dirt). Hydrophilic means
that when water makes contact with the glass, it
spreads across the glass evenly, which helps wash the
Clothing - Scientists are using nanoparticles to
enhance your clothing. By coating fabrics with a thin
layer of zinc oxide nanoparticles, manufacturers can
create clothes that give better protection from UV
radiation. Some clothes have nanoparticles in the
form of little hairs or whiskers that help repel water
and other materials, making the clothing stainresistant.
Scratch-resistant coatings - Engineers discovered
that adding aluminum silicate nanoparticles to
scratch-resistant polymer coatings made the coatings
more effective, increasing resistance to chipping and
scratching. Scratch-resistant coatings are common on
everything from cars to eyeglass lenses.
Antimicrobial bandages - Scientist Robert Burrell
created a process to manufacture antibacterial bandages using nanoparticles of
silver. Silver ions block microbes' cellular respiration [source: Burnsurgery.org].
In other words, silver smothers harmful cells, killing them.
Swimming pool cleaners and disinfectants - EnviroSystems, Inc. developed a
mixture (called a nanoemulsion) of nano-sized oil drops mixed with a
bactericide. The oil particles adhere to bacteria, making the delivery of the
bactericide more efficient and effective.
Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images
Bridgestone engineers developed this Quick
New products incorporating nanotechnology are coming out every day. Powder Display, a flexible
digital screen, using nanotechnology.
fabrics, deep-penetrating cosmetics, liquid crystal displays (LCD) and other conveniences
using nanotechnology are on the market. Before long, we'll see dozens of other products that
take advantage of nanotechnology ranging from Intel microprocessors to bionanobatteries, capacitorsonly a few nanometers thick. While this is exciting, it's only the tip
of the iceberg as far as how nanotechnology may impact us in the future.
Nanotechnology is making a big impact on the tennis world. In 2002, the tennis racket
company Babolat introduced the VS Nanotube Power racket. They made the racket
out of carbon nanotube-infused graphite, meaning the racket was very light, yet many
times stronger than steel. Meanwhile, tennis ball manufacturer Wilson introduced the
Double Core tennis ball. These balls have a coating of clay nanoparticles on the inner
core. The clay acts as a sealant, making it very difficult for air to escape the ball.
NANOWIRES AND CARBON NANOTUBES
Currently, scientists find two nano-size structures of particular interest: nanowires and
carbon nanotubes. Nanowires are
wires with a very small diameter,
sometimes as small as 1 nanometer.
Scientists hope to use them to build tiny
transistors for computer chips and other
electronic devices. In the last couple of
overshadowed nanowires. We're still
learning about these structures, but
what we've learned so far is very
CNT is a tubular form of carbon
with diameters as small as 1nm,
and lengths of over 130 microns
Modulus over 1
A carbon nanotube is a nano-size cylinder of carbon atoms. Imagine a sheet of carbon atoms,
which would look like a sheet of hexagons. If you roll that sheet into a tube, you'd have a
carbon nanotube. Carbon nanotube properties depend on how you roll the sheet. In other
words, even though all carbon nanotubes are made of carbon, they can be very different from
one another based on how you align the individual atoms.
With the right arrangement of atoms, you can create a carbon nanotube that's hundreds of
times stronger than steel, but six times lighter. Engineers plan to make building material out
of carbon nanotubes, particularly for things like cars and airplanes. Lighter vehicles would
mean better fuel efficiency, and the added strength translates to increased passenger safety.
Carbon nanotubes can also be effective semiconductors with the right arrangement of atoms.
Scientists are still working on finding ways to make carbon nanotubes a realistic option for
transistors in microprocessors and other electronics.
Graphite vs. Diamonds
What's the difference between graphite and diamonds? Both materials
are made of carbon, but both have vastly different properties. Graphite is
soft; diamonds are hard. Graphite conducts electricity, but diamonds are
insulators and can't conduct electricity. Graphite is opaque; diamonds are
usually transparent. Graphite and diamonds have these properties
because of the way the carbon atoms bond together at the nanoscale.
7. MOLECULAR NANOTECHNOLOGY: A LONG-TERM VIEW
Molecular nanotechnology, sometimes called molecular manufacturing, is a term given to the
concept of engineered nanosystems (nanoscale machines) operating on the molecular scale. It
is especially associated with the concept of a molecular assembler, a machine that can
produce a desired structure or device atom-by-atom using the principles of
mechanosynthesis. Manufacturing in the context of productive nanosystems is not related to,
and should be clearly distinguished from, the conventional technologies used to manufacture
nanomaterials such as carbon nanotubes and nanoparticles. When the term "nanotechnology"
was independently coined and popularized by Eric Drexler (who at the time was unaware of
an earlier usage by Norio Taniguchi) it referred to a future manufacturing technology based
on molecular machine systems. The premise was that molecular scale biological analogies of
traditional machine components demonstrated molecular machines were possible: by the
countless examples found in biology, it is known that sophisticated, stochastically optimised
biological machines can be produced.
It is hoped that developments in nanotechnology will make possible their construction by
some other means, perhaps using biomimetic principles. However, Drexler and other
researchers have proposed that advanced nanotechnology, although perhaps initially
implemented by biomimetic means, ultimately could be based on mechanical engineering
principles, namely, a manufacturing technology based on the mechanical functionality of
these components (such as gears, bearings, motors, and structural members) that would
enable programmable, positional assembly to atomic specification (PNAS-1981). The
physics and engineering performance of exemplar designs were analyzed in Drexler's book
In general it is very difficult to assemble devices on the atomic scale, as all one has to
position atoms are other atoms of comparable size and stickyness. Another view, put forth by
Carlo Montemagno, is that future nanosystems will be hybrids of silicon technology and
biological molecular machines. Yet another view, put forward by the late Richard Smalley, is
that mechanosynthesis is impossible due to the difficulties in mechanically manipulating
This led to an exchange of letters in the ACS publication Chemical & Engineering News in
2003. Though biology clearly demonstrates that molecular machine systems are possible,
non-biological molecular machines are today only in their infancy. Leaders in research on
non-biological molecular machines are Dr. Alex Zettl and his colleagues at Lawrence
Berkeley Laboratories and UC Berkeley. They have constructed at least three distinct
molecular devices whose motion is controlled from the desktop with changing voltage: a
nanotube nanomotor, a molecular actuator, and a nanoelectromechanical relaxation oscillator.
An experiment indicating that positional molecular assembly is possible was performed by
Ho and Lee at Cornell University in 1999. They used a scanning tunneling microscope to
move an individual carbon monoxide molecule (CO) to an individual iron atom (Fe) sitting
on a flat silver crystal, and chemically bound the CO to the Fe by applying a voltage.
This includes subfields which develop or study materials
having unique properties arising from their nanoscale
• Interface and Colloid Science has given rise to many
Materials which may be useful in
nanotechnology, such as carbon nanotubes
Graphical representation of a
and other fullerenes, and various nanoparticles
rotaxane, useful as a molecular switch
Nanoscale materials can also be used for bulk applications; most present commercial
applications of nanotechnology are of this flavor.
Progress has been made in using these materials for medical applications.
These seek to arrange smaller components into more
DNA nanotechnology utilizes the specificity of
Watson-Crick basepairing to construct well-defined
structures out of DNA and other nucleic acids.
Approaches from the field of "classical" chemical
synthesis also aim at designing molecules with welldefined shape (e.g. bis-peptides).
More generally, molecular self-assembly seeks to
use concepts of supramolecular chemistry, and
molecular recognition in particular, to cause
single-molecule components to automatically
arrange themselves into some useful conformation.
This device transfers energy from
nano-thin layers of quantum wells to
nanocrystals above them, causing
the nanocrystals to emit visible
These seek to create smaller devices by using larger ones to direct their assembly.
Many technologies descended from conventional solid-state silicon methods for
fabricating microprocessors are now capable of creating features smaller than 100
nm, falling under the definition of nanotechnology. Giant magnetoresistance-based
hard drives already on the market fit this description, as do atomic layer deposition
(ALD) techniques. Peter Grünberg and Albert Fert received the Nobel Prize in
Physics for their discovery of Giant magnetoresistance and contributions to the field
of spintronics in 2007.
Solid-state techniques can also be used to create devices known as
systems or NEMS, which are related to
microelectromechanical systems or MEMS.
Atomic force microscope tips can be used as a nanoscale "write head" to deposit a
chemical upon a surface in a desired pattern in a process called dip pen
nanolithography. This fits into the larger subfield of nanolithography.
Focussed ion beams can directly remove material, or even deposit material when
suitable pre-cursor gasses are applied at the same time. For example, this technique is
used routinely to create sub-100 nm sections of material for analysis in Transmission
These subfields seek to anticipate what inventions nanotechnology might yield, or attempt to
propose an agenda along which inquiry might progress. These often take a big-picture view
of nanotechnology, with more emphasis on its societal implications than the details of how
such inventions could actually be created.
Molecular nanotechnology is a proposed approach which involves manipulating
single molecules in finely controlled, deterministic ways. This is more theoretical
than the other subfields and is beyond current capabilities.
Nanorobotics centers on self-sufficient machines of some functionality operating at
the nanoscale. There are hopes for applying nanorobots in medicine, but it
may not be easy to do such a thing because of several drawbacks of such devices.
Nevertheless, progress on innovative materials and methodologies has been
demonstrated with some patents granted about new nanomanufacturing devices for
future commercial applications, which also progressively helps in the development
towards nanorobots with the use of embedded nanobioelectronics concept.
Programmable matter based on artificial atoms seeks to design materials whose
properties can be easily, reversibly and externally controlled.
Due to the popularity and media exposure of the term nanotechnology, the words
picotechnology and femtotechnology have been coined in analogy to it, although
these are only used rarely and informally.
TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES
The first observations and size measurements of nano-particles were made during the first
decade of the 20th century. They are mostly associated with the name of Zsigmondy who
made detailed studies of gold sols and other
nanomaterials with sizes down to 10 nm and less.
He published a book in 1914. He used
ultramicroscope that employs a dark field method
for seeing particles with sizes much less than light
There are traditional techniques developed during
20th century in Interface and Colloid Science for
characterizing nanomaterials. These are widely
used for first generation passive nanomaterials
specified in the next section.
These methods include several different
techniques for characterizing particle size
distribution. This characterization is imperative
because many materials that are expected to be
nano-sized are actually aggregated in solutions.
Some of methods are based on light scattering.
Other apply ultrasound, such as ultrasound
Typical AFM setup. A microfabricated
cantilever with a sharp tip is deflected by
features on a sample surface, much like in a
phonograph but on a much smaller scale. A
laser beam reflects off the backside of the
cantilever into a set of photodetectors,
allowing the deflection to be measured and
assembled into an image of the surface.
attenuation spectroscopy for testing concentrated
nano-dispersions and microemulsions.
There is also a group of traditional techniques for characterizing surface charge or zeta
potential of nano-particles in solutions. This information is required for proper system
stabilzation, preventing its aggregation or flocculation. These methods include
microelectrophoresis, electrophoretic light scattering and electroacoustics. The last one, for
instance colloid vibration current method is suitable for characterizing concentrated systems.
Next group of nanotechnological techniques include those used for fabrication of nanowires,
those used in semiconductor fabrication such as deep ultraviolet lithography, electron beam
lithography, focused ion beam machining, nanoimprint lithography, atomic layer deposition,
and molecular vapor deposition, and further including molecular self-assembly techniques
such as those employing di-block copolymers. However, all of these techniques preceded the
nanotech era, and are extensions in the development of scientific advancements rather than
techniques which were devised with the sole purpose of creating nanotechnology and which
were results of nanotechnology research.
There are several important modern developments. The atomic force microscope (AFM) and
the Scanning Tunneling Microscope (STM) are two early versions of scanning probes that
launched nanotechnology. There are other types of scanning probe microscopy, all flowing
from the ideas of the scanning confocal microscope developed by Marvin Minsky in 1961
and the scanning acoustic microscope (SAM) developed by Calvin Quate and coworkers in
the 1970s, that made it possible to see structures at the nanoscale. The tip of a scanning probe
can also be used to manipulate nanostructures (a process called positional assembly).
Feature-oriented scanning-positioning methodology suggested by Rostislav Lapshin appears
to be a promising way to implement these nanomanipulations in automatic mode. However,
this is still a slow process because of low scanning velocity of the microscope. Various
techniques of nanolithography such as dip pen nanolithography, electron beam lithography or
nanoimprint lithography were also developed. Lithography is a top-down fabrication
technique where a bulk material is reduced in size to nanoscale pattern.
The top-down approach anticipates nanodevices that must be built piece by piece in stages,
much as manufactured items are made. Scanning probe microscopy is an important technique
both for characterization and synthesis of nanomaterials. Atomic force microscopes and
scanning tunneling microscopes can be used to look at surfaces and to move atoms around.
By designing different tips for these microscopes, they can be used for carving out structures
on surfaces and to help guide self-assembling structures. By using, for example, featureoriented scanning-positioning approach, atoms can be moved around on a surface with
scanning probe microscopy techniques. At present, it is expensive and time-consuming for
mass production but very suitable for laboratory experimentation.
In contrast, bottom-up techniques build or grow larger structures atom by atom or molecule
by molecule. These techniques include chemical synthesis, self-assembly and positional
assembly. Another variation of the bottom-up approach is molecular beam epitaxy or MBE.
Researchers at Bell Telephone Laboratories like John R. Arthur. Alfred Y. Cho, and Art C.
Gossard developed and implemented MBE as a research tool in the late 1960s and 1970s.
Samples made by MBE were key to the discovery of the fractional quantum Hall effect for
which the 1998 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded. MBE allows scientists to lay down
atomically-precise layers of atoms and, in the process, build up complex structures.
Important for research on semiconductors, MBE is also widely used to make samples and
devices for the newly emerging field of spintronics.
Newer techniques such as Dual Polarisation Interferometry are enabling scientists to measure
quantitatively the molecular interactions that take place at the nano-scale.
However, new therapeutic products, based on responsive nanomaterials, such as the
ultradeformable, stress-sensitive Transfersome vesicles, are under development and already
approved for human use in some countries.
PROGRESSION OF NANOTECHNOLOGY
Why now? If it seems that nanotechnology has begun to blossom in the last ten years, this is
largely due to the development of new instruments that allow researchers to observe and
manipulate matter at the nanolevel. Technologies such as scanning tunneling microscopy,
magnetic force microscopy, and electron microscopy allow scientists to observe events at the
atomic level. At the same time, economic pressures in the electronics industry have forced
the development of new lithographic techniques that continue the steady reduction in feature
size and cost.
One leader in nanotechnology policy has identified four distinct generations in the
development of nanotechnology products, to which we can add a possible fifth:
Passive Nanostructures (2000-2005)
During the first period products will take advantage of the passive properties of
nanomaterials, including nanotubes and nanolayers. For example, titanium dioxide is
often used in sunscreens because it absorbs and reflects ultraviolet light. When broken
down into nanoparticles it becomes transparent to visible light, eliminating the white
cream appearance associated with traditional sunscreens. Carbon nanotubes are much
stronger than steel but only a fraction of the weight. Tennis rackets containing them
promise to deliver greater stiffness without additional weight. As a third example, yarn
that is coated with a nanolayer of material can be woven into stain-resistant clothing.
Each of these products takes advantage of the unique property of a material when it is
manufactured at a nanoscale. However, in each case the nanomaterial itself remains
static once it is encapsulated into the product.
Active Nanostructures (2005-2010)
Active nanostructures change their state during use, responding in predicable ways to the
environment around them. Nanoparticles might seek out cancer cells and then release an
attached drug. A nanoelectromechancial device embedded into construction material could
sense when the material is under strain and release an epoxy that repairs any rupture. Or a
layer of nanomaterial might respond to the presence of sunlight by emitting an electrical
charge to power an appliance. Products in this phase require a greater understanding of how
the structure of a nanomaterial determines its properties and a corresponding ability to design
unique materials. They also raise more advanced manufacturing and deployment challenges.
Systems of Nanosystems (2010-2015)
In this stage assemblies of nanotools work together to achieve a final goal. A key challenge is
to get the main components to work together within a network, possibly exchanging
information in the process. Proteins or viruses might assemble small batteries.
Nanostructures could self-assemble into a lattice on which bone or other tissues could grow.
Smart dust strewn over an area could sense the presence of human beings and communicate
their location. Small nanoelectromechancial devices could search out cancer cells and turn
off their reproductive capacity. At this stage significant advancements in robotics,
biotechnology, and new generation information technology will begin to appear in products.
Molecular Nanosystems (2015-2020)
This stage involves the intelligent design of molecular and atomic devices, leading to
“unprecedented understanding and control over the basic building blocks of all natural and
man-made things.” Although the line between this stage and the last blurs, what seems to
distinguish products introduced here is that matter is crafted at the molecular and even atomic
level to take advantage of the specific nanoscale properties of different elements. Research
will occur on the interaction between light and matter, the machine-human interface, and
atomic manipulation to design molecules. Among the examples that Dr. Roco foresees are
“multifunctional molecules, catalysts for synthesis and controlling of engineered
nanostructures, subcellular interventions, and biomimetics for complex system dynamics and
control.” Since the path from initial discovery to product application takes 10-12 years, the
initial scientific foundations for these technologies are already starting to emerge from
laboratories. At this stage a single product will integrate a wide variety of capacities
including independent power generation, information processing and communication, and
mechanical operation. Its manufacture implies the ability to rearrange the basic building
blocks of matter and life to accomplish specific purposes. Nanoproducts regularly applied to
a field might search out and transform hazardous materials and mix a specified amount of
oxygen into the soil. Nanodevices could roam the body, fixing the DNA of damaged cells,
monitoring vital conditions and displaying data in a readable form on skin cells in a form
similar to a tattoo. Computers might operate by reading the brain waves of the operator.
The Singularity (2020 and beyond)
Every exponential curve eventually reaches a point where the growth rate becomes almost
infinite. This point is often called the Singularity. If technology continues to advance at
exponential rates, what happens after 2020? Technology is likely to continue, but at this stage
some observers forecast a period at which scientific advances aggressively assume their own
momentum and accelerate at unprecedented levels, enabling products that today seem like
science fiction. Beyond the Singularity, human society is incomparably different from what it
is today. Several assumptions seem to drive predictions of a Singularity. The first is that
continued material demands and competitive pressures will continue to drive technology
forward. Second, at some point artificial intelligence advances to a point where computers
enhance and accelerate scientific discovery and technological change. In other words,
intelligent machines start to produce discoveries that are too complex for humans. Finally,
there is an assumption that solutions to most of today’s problems including material scarcity,
human health, and environmental degradation can be solved by technology, if not by us, then
by the computers we eventually develop.
11. HOW NANO TECHNOLOGY WILL CHANGE THE WORLD:
(a). First Bricks Then The Building :
Before nanotechnology can become anything other than a very impressive computer
nanotechnologists are inventing an assembler, a few-atoms-large
nanomachine that can custom-build matter.
Engineers at Cornell and Stanford, as well as at Zyvex (the self- described "first molecular
nanotechnology development company") are working to create such assemblers right
The first products will most likely be superstrong nanoscale building materials, such as
the Bucky tubes . Bucky tubes are chicken-wire-shapedtubes made from geodesic
dome-shaped carbon molecules . These tubes are essentially nanometer-sized graphite
fibers, and their strength is 100 to 150 times that of steel at less than one-fourth the
weight. With Bucky tubes we can build super roller coasters that drop you from 14,000 feet
or we could take tram rides through the Himalayas.
The key to manufacturing with assemblers on a large scale is self-replication. One nanosized robot making wood one nano-sized piece at a time would be painfully slow. But
if these assemblers could replicate themselves, we could have trillions of assemblers all
manufacturing in unison. Then there would be no limit to the kinds of things we could
create. "Not only our manufacturing process will be transformed, but our concept of
labor. Consumer goods will become plentiful, inexpensive, smart, and durable".
(b).The Ways That Molecular Nanotechnology could Change our lives:
(b.1)Manufacturing and Industry:
Nanotechnology will render the traditional manufacturing process Obsolete. For example,
we'd no longer have a steel mill Outfitted with enormous, expensive machinery,
running on fossi fuels and employing hundreds of human workers; instead we'd have a
nanofactory with trillions of nanobots synthesizing steel, molecule by molecule.
Bill Spence believes that all industry would disappear except software engineering
and design. We'd simply design, engineer, and do a molecular model of any product we
wanted, and then software could tell a nanobot how to make it.
(b.2).Use of Natural Resources:
Rather than clear-cutting forests to make paper, we'd have assemblers synthesizing paper.
Rather than using oil for energy, we'd have molecule-sized solar cells mixed into road
pavement a few hundred Famine would be obliterated, as food could be synthesized easily
and cheaply with a
nanobox that pulls the raw materials (mostly
carbon) from the air or the soil. And by using nanobots as cleaning machines that break
down pollutants, we would be able to counteract the damage we've done to the earthsince
the industrial revolution.
Nanotechnology could also mean the end of disease as we know it. If you caught a cold
or contracted AIDS, you'd just drink a teaspoon of liquid that contained an army of
molecule-sized nanobots programmed to enter your body's cells and fight viruses. If a
genetic disease ran in yourfamily, you'd ingest nanobots that would burrow into your
DNA and repair the defective . Even traditional plastic surgery would be eliminated, as
medical nanobots could change your eye color, alter the shape of your nose, or even give
you a complete sex change without surgery.
NEW OBJECTS WILL APPEAR BECAUSE OF
Perhaps the big story -- with mature nanotechnology, any object can morph into any
other imaginable object... truly a concept requiring personal exposure
understand the significance and possibilities, but to get a grip on the idea, consider this:
The age of digital matter -- multi-purpose, programmable machines, change the software,
and something completely different happens.
A simple can opener or a complex asphalt paver are both, single purpose machines. Ask
them to clean your floor or build a radio tower and
they "stare" back blankly. A computer
is different, it is a multi purpose machine --one machine that can do unlimited tasks by
changing software... but only in the world of bits and information.
Fractal Robots are programmable machines that can do unlimited tasks in the physical
world, the world of matter. Load the right software and the same "machines" can take
out the garbage, paint your car, or construct an office building and later, wash that
building's windows. In large groups, these devices exhibit what may be termed as macro
(hold in your hand) sized "nanobots ", possessing AND
performing many of the
desirable features of mature nanomachines (as described in Drexler's, Engines of
Creation, Unbounding the Future, Nanosystems, etc.).This is the beginning of "Digital
These Robots look like "Rubic's Cubes" that can "slide" over each other on command,
changing and moving in any overall shape desired for a particular task. These cubes
communicate with each other and share power through simple internal induction coils,
have batteries, a small computer and various kinds of internal magnetic and electric
inductive motors (dependingon size) used to move over other cubes (details here). When
miniaturized (below 0.1mm) and fabricated using
methods, cubes can also be programmed to assemble other cubes of smaller or larger size.
This “self-assembly" is an important feature that will drop cost dramatically.
The point is – if you have enough of the cubes of small enough dimension, they can
slide over each other, or "morph" into any object with just about any function, one can
imagine and program for such behavior. Cubes of sufficiently miniaturized size could
be programmed to behave like the "T-2" Terminator Robot in the Arnold Schwartznegger
movie, or a lawn chair... Just about any animate or inanimate object.
Fractal Shape Shifting Robots have been in prototype for the last two years and this form
of "digital matter" to hit the commercial seen very soon. In the near future, if you gaze out
your window and see something vaguely resembling an amoeba constructing an office
building, you'll know what "IT" is.
This is not to say individual purpose objects will not be desirable... Back to cotton -although Cubes could mimic the exact appearance of a fuzzy down comforter (a
blanket), if made out of cubes, it would be heavy and not have the same thermal
properties. Although through a heroic engineering effort, such a "blanket" could be made
to insulate and pipe gasses like acomforter and even "levitate" slightly to mimic the
weight and mass, why bother when the real thing can be manufactured atom by atom, on
site, at about a meter a second (depending on thermal considerations).
Also, "single purpose" components of larger machines will be built to take advantage of
fantastic structural properties of diamondoid-Buckytube composites for such things
as thin, super strong aircraft parts. Today, using the theoretical properties of
materials, we can design an efficient, quiet, super safe personal vertical takeoff
airocar. This vehicle of science fiction is probably science future.
INDUSTRIES SHOULD DISAPPEAR BECAUSE
Everything -- but software, everything will run on software, and general engineering, as it
relates to this new power over matter... and the entertainment industry. Unfortunately,
there will still be insurance salesmen and lawyers, although not in my solar orbiting
city state. If as Drexler suggest, we can pave streets with self assembling solar
cells, I would tend to avoid energy stocks. Mature nanites could mine any material from
the earth, landfills or asteroids at very low cost and in great abundance.
The mineral business is about to change. Traditional manufacturing will not be able to
compete with assembler technology and what happens to all those jobs and the financial
markets is a big, big issue that needs to be addressed now.
We will have a lot of obsolete mental baggage and Programming to throw out of
our heads... Traditional pursuits of money will need to be reevaluated when a personal
assembler can manufacture a fleet of Porch, that run circles around todays models.
As Drexler so intuitively points out, the best thing to do, is to get the whole world's society
educated and understanding what will and can happen with this technology. This will help
people make the transition and keep mental, and financial meltdowns to a minimum.
NEW INDUSTRIES SHOULD
BECAUSE OF NANOTECHNOLOGY?
Future generations are laughing as they read these words…
Laughing at the utter inadequacy and closed imagination of this writing... So consider
this a comically inadequate list. However, if they are laughing, I am satisfied and at
peace, as this means we made it through the transition (although I fear it shall not be the last).
Mega engineering for space habitation and transport in the Solar System will have a
serious future. People will be surprised at how fast space develops, because right now, a
very bright core of nano-space enthusiasts have engineering plans, awaiting thearrival of
the molecular assembler. People like Forrest Bishop have wonderful plans for space
transport and development, capable of being implemented in surprisingly short time
frames. This is artificial life, programmed to "grow" faster than natural systems. I think
Mars will be teraformed in less time than it takes to build a nuclear power plant in the later
half of the good old, backward 20th century.
An explosion in the arts and service industries are to be expected when no fields
need to be plowed for our daily bread,
similar to the explosion when agriculture
became mechanized and efficient and the sons and daughters of farmers migrated to cities.
This explosion will be exponentially greater. Leisure time, much more leisure time,
more diversions... · What professions should disappear because of nano-technology ?
Ditch digger, tugboat captain – most professions where humans are now used as
"smart brawn", or as "the best available computer", including jet fighter pilot, truck
driver, surgeon, pyramid builder, steel worker, gold miner... not that there will not be
people doing these jobs, just for fun. Charming libation venders have a good future, until
the A.I. We are just on the verge for finding out how frequent and varied novel
situations can be.
ENTERTAINMENT / EXPERIENCES WHICH
WILL BE POSSIBLE WITH NANOTECHNOLOGY?
Perhaps the definition of life and entertainment will become blurred, but as I have
previously noted, you can have a LOT of fun with Utility Fog and a super internet. In
the near term, how about designing
(traditional construction costs are not a consideration) and made of supermaterials 80-100
times as strong and much lighter than steel. That first drop can be made from 14,000
feet! The ride can last until you need the skin replaced on your face. How about a
tram ride through the Himalayas?
Amateur underwater archeologist could map and recover
from the Mediterranean in personal subs bristling with sensors. Dinosaur hunters could
send down microscopic probes into the Earth searching for new fossil fields, then
release nanomachines to meticulously unearth finds. Zero G sports are yet to be defined.
These are simple examples written by a mind stuck in this contemporary world view. The
possibilities are as numerous as moves in 3-D chess.
The Foresight Institute suggest we now have the question of not if the technology can
be developed, but when. I agree. The this is a function of the general concept awareness in
society. The media is picking up Drexler's ideas ever more quickly now. Presently, two
American companies are know to be engineering several "magical" assembler dependent
products right now, in anticipation of the arrival of the assembler. Who knows how many
black government projects may have hundreds of millions in funding around the
world. The militaraZ understands
Drexler's ideas and what a weapons boon
nanotechnology will be.
Keep in mind ,nanotechnology is not the ultimate,nor the end of technology… is nexpico
technology (trillionth of a meter)? If so, this technology would deal with "matter" on
a scale 1000 times smaller and emanate from deep inside the quantum realm... What does
this mean? Power and understanding over space-time to engineer super luminal flight
(faster than light)? Perhaps. If so, this would probably represent only the tip of this
quantum weirdness iceberg.
Pico Technology may be developed with enhanced
intelligence made available through nanotechnology.
WITH CURRENT NANOTECHNOLOGY
RESEARCH IDEAS ENERGY REQUIREMENTS:
One of the big problems not fully appreciated with current ideas in nano technology
research is the energy requirements for synthesizing bulk materials and big molecules. If
you wanted to build concrete for example atom by atom, then one has to seriously ask
whether it is best done using ingredients used for the manufacture of concrete which
is found in reasonable abundance or do we start with atoms. If we start with atoms,
then every chemical bond in concrete must be synthesised bond, by bond, using
chemical steps that would at best use several times that bond energy to achieve the
desired effect. The result is a an energy requirement to synthesise concrete that is way
beyond the energy required to make concrete from existing ingredients. For this reason,
bulk materials will never be synthesised
Nanotechnology contributions would be limited to making simple precursors if that is
energetically feasible and low cost enzymes that speed up various chemical reactions.
In trying to synthesise very large molecules, like DNA, the problems with cross
bonding and reactive intermediates bonding unfavourably with other molecules poses
a huge risk to making perfect molecules. The work of enzymes overcome most of
these difficulties. However, enzymes have to be developed that co- exist with other
enzymes and other chemicals. In nature, this is achieved through millions of years of
evolution where the right chemicals have been found to do the right job through
natural selection pressures. Beyond that, compartmentalisation is used where chemicals
cannot co-exist through their design. The compartmentalisation also requires various
molecules to transport materials through membranes separating the compartments. All
these operations require a huge diversity of chemicals that have to be researched and
perfected so that they can co-exist with the previous set of chemicals.
To perfect such systems require an unreasonable amount of effort on behalf of a nano
technologist to search out all combinations. It requires considerable effort even now to
research just one chemical in all its glorious working detail let alone combinations of
chemicals in a system.
Nano-technologists hope to side-step many of the issues by using something the
equivalent of a robot arm to perform molecular level assembly. Certainly for mass
manufacturing, this is a wholesale mistake as can be proved when energy considerations
are taken into account.
The idea of molecular assembly is taken from DNA synthesis where a small unit
called ribosome attaches to a strand of DNA, moving along it 3 base pairs at a time to
read the genetic code. The genetic code is a bit like binary code but binary codes have only
two levels which are 0 and 1. The genetic code however consist of 4 different kinds of
bases formed into complementary pairs, and since each of these base pairs can have 4
different values and when 3 sets of base pairs are read, there are 4^3 different levels or 64
levels that 3 base pairs can code. There are around 20 amino acids that are coded for by
base pairs leaving some of the remaining 44 codes not to be used or to doubly code up
existing amino acids. The amino acids are strung together to make a polypeptide chain
and this polypeptide chain is the precursor for each of the different chemicals that is found
in our body. The polypetides are processed into various proteins which could be
anything from a nutrient to an enzyme.
In all of these operations, the ribosome is the key component that translates millions of
years of evolution coded into the DNA as information into actual chemicals that make up
living organisms. It is too tempting and too far a leap to think that all that DNA technology
could be replicated in the lab with simple robot arms to make nano- technology machines.
For one thing a robot arm that picks up a precursor and attaches them precisely to a
growing molecule is particularly energy inefficient. You have to pick up the precursor
from one place and place it an another which requires HUGE amounts of energy in
relation to the actual work accomplished.
(F).Biological Systems & Energy Conservation
In biological system, the currency for energy is the energy carried by ATP (Adenosine
Tri-Phosphate). Every time an action is required usually a molecule of ATP is
involved and energy is absorbed from ATP which is then recycled. Its common
for biochemists to cite reactions in terms of the number of ATP molecules consumed per
reaction. So some chemicals require 1 ATP to accomplish its reactions while others
including very large molecules require hundreds to thousands of ATP molecules to
accomplish all its tasks. To move a ribosome 3 base pairs while its attached to a DNA
requires huge numbers of ATP molecules to be consumed. But a lot of it is recovered when
the final protein it makes is broken down as it gets recycled which means that overall,
the process of reading DNA and making macro molecules is fairly energy efficient.
Compare that scenario where a robot arm with dimensions approaching a fraction of a
micron is used to synthesise molecules. Every time the arm swings around to pick a
chemical and place it at the right place to synthesise an exotic chemical, it spends billions
of ATP energy equivalents in doing mechanical work. As the robot arm requires computers
and sensors to make them work, we are now counting into trillions of ATP energy
equivalents make one chemical bond in the newly synthesised product. There is no getting
away from this reality of the total energy cost in making a new materials from scratch.
Nano technology using this type of universal assembler is clearly nonsense and
doomed to failure in all but a handful of cases where small quantities of exotic chemicals
(G).Energy For Computers & Robot Arms:
It does not matter how small a scale we go, if we use robot arms that have to be swung
around, the energy to drive it and the energy to make its feedback system in the form of
computers work would be a tremendous waste compared to making the product by bulk
Many of these research proposals have their roots from work done with STEM (Scanning
Tunnelling Electron Microscope) probes. They have been used to image single atoms and
also to move atoms about but all in all, the realities of molecular assembly using STEMs
are being escaped here. To put a few atoms in place has cost trillions upon trillions of ATP
equivalent and there is no way to make savings on that energy expenditure except
apparently through miniaturisation.
(H).Nature's Robot Arm:
By making the robot arm smaller more energy efficiency can be achieved but still you
need a computer to sense and control the operation of the robot arm which means you still
end up spending billions in ATP energy quivalent to make the system work. The only
reason why DNA works is because the ribosome sits on the DNA and moves along three
base pairs of the DNA strand to read information. The energy
required to transfer
information from DNA to final
product is still high but the product is burned to recycle the energy which means that
in total no more than a couple of hundred to a couple of thousand ATP equivalent is
used up per product molecule (i.e. energy used from start to finish including pre- cursors,
membrane transport etc.). That is why replication and protein synthesis in nature works.
Spending and recovering energy is the reality of a biological assembly system that reads
information stored in a molecule, converts the information briefly to products before
recycling them to recover the energy spent.
(I).Energy Of Chemical Synthesis:
A man made robot arm does not recycle lost energy. So where is the justification by
nanotechnologists in their claims for making food from a handful of elements at some
time in the future? There is no justification for such a claim! Its far easier and better
done using biological organisms!!
What of making concrete and other structures with universal assembler? This again is
nonsense and it is far easier done with bulk chemicals and bulk processes where
minerals and starting materials are extracted efficiently from the ground in their native
state and processed to yield the desired products using conventional chemical processing
steps. The development of enzymes that speed up reactions is extremely useful which is
best once again synthesised from chemicals that are available from the lab shelves
rather than synthesised in limited quantities by a nano-assembler. Commercial realities
dictate that its wiser to aim for a chemical that can be synthesised readily in the
lab rather than an ultra expensive exotic chemical
quantities with a universal assembler.
that can only be built in small
(J).Lack Of Self Repair:
Another subject not fully appreciated about the biological system is the self repair systems
built in at all levels from repairing damaged DNA code to destroying molecules to remanufacture them for re-use. Small machines need self repair at all levels to cope with the
high breakage rates found at the smaller scales. Nanotechnologists cannot even begin to
address the question right now because they don't have any nano technology machines ready
for this work to be carried out!
The most immediate challenge in nanotechnology is that we need to learn more about
materials and their properties at the nanoscale. Universities and corporations across the world
are rigorously studying how atoms fit together to form larger structures. We're still learning
about how quantum mechanics impact substances at the nanoscale.
Because elements at the
nanoscale behave differently
than they do in their bulk
form, there's a concern that
some nanoparticles could be
toxic. Some doctors worry
that the nanoparticles are so
small, that they could easily
barrier, a membrane that
protects the brain from
harmful chemicals in the
bloodstream. If we plan on
using nanoparticles to coat
clothing to our highways,
we need to be sure that they
won't poison us.
Closely related to the
knowledge barrier is the
technical barrier. In order for the incredible predictions regarding nanotechnology to come
true, we have to find ways to mass produce nano-size products like transistors and nanowires.
While we can use nanoparticles to build things like tennis rackets and make wrinkle-free
fabrics, we can't make really complex microprocessor chips with nanowires yet.
There are some hefty social
concerns about nanotechnology too.
Nanotechnology may also allow us Eric Drexler, the man who introduced the word
to create more powerful weapons, nanotechnology, presented a frightening apocalyptic vision -both lethal and non-lethal. Some self-replicating nanorobots malfunctioning, duplicating
organizations are concerned that themselves a trillion times over, rapidly consuming the entire
world as they pull carbon from the environment to build more
we'll only get around to examining of themselves. It's called the "grey goo" scenario, where a
of synthetic nano-size device replaces all organic material.
nanotechnology in weaponry after Another scenario involves nanodevices made of organic
these devices are built. They urge material wiping out the Earth -- the "green goo" scenario.
scientists and politicians to examine
carefully all the possibilities of nanotechnology before designing increasingly powerful
If nanotechnology in medicine makes it possible for us to enhance ourselves physically, is
that ethical? In theory, medical nanotechnology could make us smarter, stronger and give us
other abilities ranging from rapid healing to night vision. Should we pursue such goals?
Could we continue to call ourselves human, or would we become transhuman -- the next step
on man's evolutionary path? Since almost every technology starts off as very expensive,
would this mean we'd create two races of people -- a wealthy race of modified humans and a
poorer population of unaltered people? We don't have answers to these questions, but several
organizations are urging nanoscientists to consider these implications now, before it becomes
Not all questions involve altering the human body -- some deal with the world of finance and
economics. If molecular manufacturing becomes a reality, how will that impact the world's
economy? Assuming we can build anything we need with the click of a button, what happens
to all the manufacturing jobs? If you can create anything using a replicator, what happens to
currency? Would we move to a completely electronic economy? Would we even need
Whether we'll actually need to answer all of these questions is a matter of debate. Many
experts think that concerns like grey goo and transhumans are at best premature, and
probably unnecessary. Even so, nanotechnology will definitely continue to impact us as we
learn more about the enormous potential of the nanoscale.
FUTURE OF NANOTECHNOLOGY
In the world of "Star Trek," machines called replicators can produce practically any physical
object, from weapons to a steaming cup of Earl Grey tea. Long considered to be exclusively
the product of science fiction, today some people believe replicators are a very real
possibility. They call it molecular manufacturing, and if it ever does become a reality, it
could drastically change the world.
Atoms and molecules stick together because they
have complementary shapes that lock together, or
charges that attract. Just like with magnets, a
positively charged atom will stick to a negatively
charged atom. As millions of these atoms are pieced
together by nanomachines, a specific product will
begin to take shape. The goal of molecular
manufacturing is to manipulate atoms individually
and place them in a pattern to produce a desired
The first step would be to develop nanoscopic
machines, called assemblers, that scientists can
program to manipulate atoms and molecules at will.
Rice University Professor Richard Smalley points out that it would take a single nanoscopic
machine millions of years to assemble a meaningful amount of material. In order for
molecular manufacturing to be practical, you would need trillions of assemblers working
together simultaneously. Eric Drexler believes that assemblers could first replicate
themselves, building other assemblers. Each generation would build another, resulting in
exponential growth until there are enough assemblers to produce objects.
Assemblers might have moving parts like the nanogears
in this concept drawing.
Trillions of assemblers and replicators could fill an area smaller than a cubic millimeter, and
could still be too small for us to see with the naked eye. Assemblers and replicators could
work together to automatically construct products, and could eventually replace all traditional
labor methods. This could vastly decrease manufacturing costs, thereby making consumer
goods plentiful, cheaper and stronger. Eventually, we could be able to replicate anything,
including diamonds, water and food. Famine could be eradicated by machines that fabricate
foods to feed the hungry.
Nanotechnology may have its biggest impact on the medical industry. Patients will drink
fluids containing nanorobots programmed to attack and reconstruct the molecular structure of
cancer cells and viruses. There's even speculation that nanorobots could slow or reverse the
aging process, and life expectancy could increase significantly. Nanorobots could also be
programmed to perform delicate surgeries -- such nanosurgeons could work at a level a
thousand times more precise than the sharpest scalpel [source: International Journal of
Surgery]. By working on such a small scale, a nanorobot could operate without leaving the
scars that conventional surgery does. Additionally, nanorobots could change your physical
appearance. They could be programmed to perform cosmetic surgery, rearranging your atoms
to change your ears, nose, eye color or any other physical feature you wish to alter.
Nanotechnology has the potential to have a positive effect on the environment. For instance,
scientists could program airborne nanorobots to rebuild the thinning ozone layer. Nanorobots
could remove contaminants from water sources and clean up oil spills. Manufacturing
materials using the bottom-up method of nanotechnology also creates less pollution than
conventional manufacturing processes. Our dependence on non-renewable resources would
diminish with nanotechnology. Cutting down trees, mining coal or drilling for oil may no
longer be necessary -- nanomachines could produce those resources.
Many nanotechnology experts feel that these applications are well outside the realm of
possibility, at least for the foreseeable future. They caution that the more exotic applications
are only theoretical. Some worry that nanotechnology will end up like virtual reality -- in
other words, the hype surrounding nanotechnology will continue to build until the limitations
of the field become public knowledge, and then interest (and funding) will quickly dissipate.
19. POTENTIAL SIDE
What will happen to the global order when assemblers and automated engineering
eliminate the need for most international trade? How will society change when individuals
can live indefinitely? What will we do when replicating assemblers can make almost
anything without human labor? What will we do when AI systems can think faster than
(A).The Right Tools in the Wrong Hands:
As with computers, nanotechnology and programmable assemblers could become ordinary
household objects. It's not too likely that the average person will get hold of and launch a
nuclear weapon, but imagine a deranged white separatist launching an army of nanobots
programmed to kill anyone with brown eyes or curly hair. And even if nanotechnology
remains in the hands of governments, think what a Stalin or a Saddam Hussein could do.
Vast armies of tiny, specialized killing machines that could be built and dispatched in a day;
nano-sized surveillance devices or probes that could be implanted in the brains of people
without their knowledge. The potential misuses of nanotechnology are vast.
(B).Attack of the Killer Nanobots?:
And what about the old sci-fi fear that robots will evolve greater intelligence than humans,
become sentient, and take over the world? Certainly nanomachines might replicate and
spread faster than we could control them. Drexler posits that a little thinking ahead could
address this problem. For example, self-replicating assemblers could be programmed to
compare their instruction sets an destroy any copies with the slightest deviation. That way,
mutant nanobots could be contained before they did any damage.
One point most fail to realize when first considering the effects of nanotechnology on
population (the demise and reversal ofaging), is the same nanotechnology will open up outer
space with all its unimaginable quantities of material, energy and elbowroom, with truly
inexpensive access, great safety (massively redundant systems) made possible by the new
economics of self replicating machinery. "The Solar System could accommodate the
population of the Earth a billion times over, (living) in style." Also to be considered is the
fact once nanotechnology arrives, this is not the end of discovery and technology. It is a
futile endeavor... to consider how population is affected by this technology viewed with a
perspective of arrival, then a flat curve, through to infinity.
Humanity will be faced with a powerful, accelerated social revolutions as a result of
nanotechnology. In the near future, a team of scientists will succeed in constructing the first
nao-sized robot capable Of self replication. Consumer goods will become plentiful,
inexpensive, smart, and durable. Medicine will take a quantum leap forward. Space travel
and colonization will become safe and affordable. For these and other reasons global life
styles will change radically and human behavior drastically impacted.