Let’s Get Small – Real-life Nanotechnology Applications

Let’s Get Small – Real-life Nanotechnology Applications

In today’s world, bigger is definitely not better. From computers to audio parts, smaller is where it’s at. Learn about how miniaturization has benefitted the aviation industry, space exploration, and other industries by visiting  Pico Electronics, located in Pelham, NY. The ultimate goal of extreme miniaturization is nanotechnology – working with and creating materials at the nanoscale level.

For reference, a nanometer is approximately one-billionth of a meter, or one hundred-thousandths the width of a human hair. Once existing only in the imaginations of science fiction writers, nanotechnology can be found all around us now, with exciting new applications being discovered every day.

Physicist Richard Feynman, best known for his work in the field of quantum mechanics, gave a lecture at CalTech in 1959 entitled, “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom,” in which he theorized that scientists would someday be able to manipulate matter at the molecular and atomic levels. The term “nanotechnology” was first used about 10 years later. With the invention of microscopes powerful enough to see individual atoms in 1981, serious research into possible applications for nanotechnology began.

Nanotechnology is already in use in many everyday products. Some sunscreens, for example, coat the user’s skin with an ultra-thin layer of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide that blocks UV rays. Fabrics are coated with nanowhiskers, tiny fibers that impart stain and water resistance by enveloping each fiber of material in a cushion of air. Silver nanoparticles are also used in fabrics to repel bacteria for odor control. The Project for Emerging Nanotechnology estimates that silver nanoparticles are used in as many as 150 different products, including socks, gloves, and athletic wear.

What makes nanotech so exciting? Scientists have discovered that materials behave differently and have different properties at the molecular level. At the nanoscale, gravity is not as strong as the electromagnetic force between atoms. Some materials are much stronger at the nano level, and others display different chemical reactivity. Carbon nanotubes, for example, can be grown into fibers of any length, can be 400 times stronger than steel, and can conduct heat better than diamond.  One theoretical application for carbon nanotubes is the construction of a space elevator, an extremely strong but thin cable leading to an orbiting platform, on which passengers would ride in specially designed elevator cars. While the idea seemed impossible when first proposed in 1989, nanotechnology research has brought the concept into the realm of possibility.

Finally, what about those nanites that can be injected into your blood, and let loose to cure you of diseases from the inside out? Researchers at Durham University have already conducted tests in which machines made up of nothing more than a string of molecules were able to drill into and kill cancer cells. Perhaps someday curing cancer will be as easy as treating an infected cut – just take a pill loaded with nanomachines and let them do their job.


Categories: Technology

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