For related issues, see also Biotechnology, Medical Ethics, and Science. Descriptions of nanotechnology




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NANOTECHNOLOGY


For related issues, see also Biotechnology, Medical Ethics, and Science.




Descriptions of nanotechnology


Nanotechnology deals with the novel properties of matter on small scales

Charles R. Richard (patent attorney and former chemical engineer, Washington DC), “Nano Know-How,” Chemical Engineering, February 2009, p. 34

“Nanotechnology may be defined as research or technology development at the atomic, molecular or macromolecular levels, in the length scale of about 1-100 nm [nanometer], resulting in: (a) the creation and/or use of materials, structures, features, devices or systems that have novel properties and/ or functions because of their size or (b) the ability to control or manipulate on the atomic scale. It is important to note that nanotechnology is concerned with items of small size where the size factor relates to their having ‘novel properties and/or functions.’ As shall be described later, the ‘novelty’ is usually noticeable in some manner from a macro point of view.”


Nanotechnology operates on the smallest of scales

Charles R. Richard (patent attorney and former chemical engineer, Washington DC), “Nano Know-How,” Chemical Engineering, February 2009, p. 34

“Nanotechnology is also concerned with controlling and manipulating on the atomic scale, as on a more individual particle rather than a collective basis, even visually in some sense. It is distinct from the ‘coarser’ and more ‘free-form’ technologies that chemical engineers and chemists usually use to manipulate atoms and molecules. Nanotechnology has been described as being in the border area of sizes important in physics and electrical engineering, chemistry and chemical engineering, biology and biotechnology, as well as mechanical engineering. To put the size range here into some concrete perspective, the diameter of a hydrogen atom is about 0.1 nm [nanometer]; that of a silicon atom is about 0.33 nm; the diameter of a carbon nanotube, discussed later, is often about 1 nm; the minimum feature on microchips is less than 90 nm in size; the size of a smallpox virus particle is about 100 nm; the wavelength of visible light is from about 400 to 700 nm; and the size of a small bacterium is about 1,000 nm or 1 micron.”


Nanotechnology is making things on the atomic scale

Bibiana Campos-Seijo (staff editor) and Stephanie Sutton (staff assistant editor), “A future without ‘grey goo’,” Pharmaceutical Technology Europe, October 2008, p. 48

“Fundamentally, nanotechnology is about making things on the scale of atoms. By manipulating matter on the atomic and molecular scale, it is possible to create new materials and devices that can be smaller, stronger or faster; for example carbon nanotubes possess extraordinary strength and unique electrical properties, and have been described as ‘the most important material in nanotechnology today’.”


Materials exhibit unique properties on the nanoscale

Bibiana Campos-Seijo (staff editor) and Stephanie Sutton (staff assistant editor), “A future without ‘grey goo’,” Pharmaceutical Technology Europe, October 2008, p. 48

“A single nanometer is equivalent to one thousandth of a micron or one billionth of a metre, which has been likened to comparing the size of a marble to the size of the Earth. Although open to interpretation, the nanoscale is generally said to comprise anything measuring 1-100 nm. At this scale, materials often exhibit different physical, chemical and biological properties; for example, the melting point of a substance may change because of the change in surface area, chemical activity may increase or a substance may acquire the ability to cross tissue barriers. This creates new possibilities to optimize drug targeting and delivery. In what is reminiscent of a science fiction novel, researchers have also speculated that it could be possible to use nanorobots that patrol the body diagnosing and treating ailments.”


Molecular machines and assemblers are readily understood

K. Eric Drexler (American engineer; founder, the Foresight Institute), “ A technology of tiny things; nanotechnics and civilization,” Whole Earth Review, Spring 1987, p. 8+

“The basic idea of nanotechnology is straightforward. We live in bodies made of atoms on a planet made of atoms, and how those atoms are arranged makes all the difference. Atoms are objects. They have size, shape, mass, and strength. A hammer is a large collection of atoms; a molecule is a small collection. both are held together with the same forces. Molecular machines are simply machines made of molecular-scale parts having carefully arranged atoms. Chemical reactions happen when two reactive molecules bump together in the right orientation, making atoms rearrange to form new molecules. Nanotechnology assemblers will be molecular machines that grab reactive molecules and bring them together in a controlled way, building up a complex structure a few atoms at a time.”


Nanotechnology exploits an overlooked niche in conventional engineering

“The invisible factory,” The Economist, December 9, 1989, p. 91

“Today’s technology pays scant attention to the single atom. Chemists mix their potions in huge vats and let the random jiggling of molecules throw enough of the ingredients together to make some of the product they want. Similarly, steel manufacturers work on too large a scale to stop tiny cracks forming in girders. Getting molecules to do the work would make sure that every atom fell into place. Molecules would be an engineer’s dream, if only engineers could see them. The bonds between atoms make for miniature bearings with little friction. A molecule with thousands of atoms could contort itself like no conventional machine.”


Nanotechnology will be able to create arbitrary complex molecules to order

K. Eric Drexler (American engineer; founder, the Foresight Institute), “ A technology of tiny things; nanotechnics and civilization,” Whole Earth Review, Spring 1987, p. 8+

“Today, genetic engineers reprogram the molecular machinery of living cells to make new molecules. They work at the scale of proteins — thousands of atoms. Eventually, nanotechnologists will build new, smaller machinery, and program it to make almost any pattern of atoms a designer might specify, atom by atom. Imagine an industrial robot arm, directed by a computer. It can build complex things by putting parts together, one at a time. To picture a nanoassembler, imagine that the arm is made of the smallest possible parts, each containing a couple to several thousand atoms. This makes it less than a millionth the size of the industrial arm (and lets it make motions in a millionth the time). This arm also builds complex things by putting parts together, one at a time, but the parts are reactive molecules and each assembly step is a chemical reaction.”


It’s too early to predict the ultimate impacts of nanotechnology

Alexei Grinbaum (postdoctoral fellow at the Perimeter Institute of Theoretical Physics, Ontario, Canada), “Cognitive barriers in perception of nanotechnology,” Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, Winter 2006, p. 690

“It is generally recognized that nanotechnology is in its early stages of development and it is too early to arrive at definite conclusions as to the changes that this technology will bring into the human condition.”


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