Nanotechnology: What does it all mean?

“We stand at the threshold of an age in which materials and devices can be fashioned atom-by-atom to satisfy precise design requirements. Nanotechnology-based applications are arising that were not even imaged a decade ago. The range of potential application is broad and will have enormous consequences for electronics, energy transformation and storage, materials, and medicine and health, to name a few examples. Indeed, the scope of this technology is so broad as to leave virtually no product untouched.” – US Rep. Bart Gordon, Former Chairman of the House Committee on Science and Technology.

What does all that mean? It means there is a new age of technology that is actually considered a revolution because it changes everything we have known about the structure of materials. It is the ability to read the surface of a single atom or molecule and move it around to build and shape. Now that is what I call some nano-nano or a more technical term would be nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology is not new. Nature has been using it to control its evolution. What is different today is man’s ability to understand and control these structures and properties to make new functional materials and devices.

There are many different views of precisely what is included in nanotechnology. In general, however, most agree that three things are important:

  1. Small size, measured in 100s of nanometers or less
  2. Unique properties because of the small size
  3. Control the structure and composition on the nm scale in order to control the properties.

More technology will be invented in the next 20 years than all of mankind with nano-scale manufacturing. Nano materials come in all shapes, sizes and composition – as a material it can replace everything manufactured today – manufacturing reinvented. Nano-scale manufacturing is anticipated to be the fastest growing technological and commercial innovation in the 21st Century.

How will this atomically precise manufacturing impact the future of technology, global governance, and the environment? It is equally applied to fundamentally change the foundation of everything through transformation as well as replacement of hardware (physical objects or mass). Moore’s Law will be challenged to the hilt at the nano-scale. The nano particle is slightly larger than an atom itself so it is definitely not visible with the naked eye. So how is this material managed?

Nanotechnology combines solid state physics, chemistry, electrical engineering, chemical engineering, biochemistry and biophysics, and materials science. Many trained scientists, engineers, and technicians in these areas will be required in the next 30 years. It is estimated that by the end of 2015, this exciting field will need 7 million workers worldwide.  The workforce will come from all areas of science and engineering and will include those with two-year technical degrees up to PhD researchers in universities and industry.

The STEM programs in our schools are actually very vital to advance this technology in the US. If we don’t train them, China, Russia, Japan and the EU will and the US will be commercializing it from behind. Where have we experience that before?

Science is not done in a vacuum. It exists, influences, and is influenced by the society surrounding it. Nanotechnology, like all new technologies that have come before it, will also have a profound effect on social and ethical issues.

Over the next 10 weeks or so, I will introduce nano usage in the following areas: electronics, quantum computing, energy, medicine, mineral resources, water, agriculture, infrastructure development, spaceflight and even climate change. There are hundreds of possible uses and I will touch on many of them as I discuss the above categories. The easiest way to understand the technology is through examples and video which I will provide. Hop on board for an amazing adventure in learning and new thinking.

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