Thursday, September 30, 2010

Nanotechnology Introduction...

For the world to advance to the next stage in technology things must get a lot smaller. This miniaturization will present unforeseen challenges to our society. Can something 1/25,400,000 of an inch destroy the race?
This will be the first in ongoing series of blogs on Nanotechnology. The field is so vast that it affects every part of our society. This first blog will simply be an overview to the field.

The first talk of this technology before the name was coined, was by renowned physicist Richard Feynman in 1959 in a lecture named, There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom. He speculated that atomic or even subatomic particles could be manipulated to form objects, machines or new molecules.
When we get to the very, very small world---say circuits of seven atoms---we have a lot of new things that would happen that represent completely new opportunities for design. Atoms on a small scale behave like nothing on a large scale, for they satisfy the laws of quantum mechanics. So, as we go down and fiddle around with the atoms down there, we are working with different laws, and we can expect to do different things. We can manufacture in different ways. We can use, not just circuits, but some system involving the quantized energy levels, or the interactions of quantized spins, etc. The principles of physics, as far as I can see, do not speak against the possibility of maneuvering things atom by atom. It is not an attempt to violate any laws; it is something, in principle, that can be done; but in practice, it has not been done because we are too big. 

Depending on the particular atom and how you measure them, atoms can range from 2 to 20 nanometers wide. A meter = 1,000,000,000 nanometers. So one nanometer is one billionth of a meter. The motors, gears, robots that are made in nanotechnology are far too small to be seen by the eye and cannot be seen even by traditional microscopes. The best way to make these small things is by manipulating other small tools to make them. Similar to a microscopic toolkit. 

The applications for nanotechnology range from foods to space exploration. Nanotechnology is vital wherever miniaturization would help a field of study. This applies to everything. Here is one application that many might wish - cell phones, specifically the Nokia Morph: 

Here is a general introduction to Nanotechnology in this video:

IBM's engineers last year figured out how to move an atom a precise distant using electrical charges. Here is a video that describes this:

Medical researchers are studying the possible uses of nanotechnology devices for treating cancer:

This is a possible vision of how products will be made in the future through Nanotechnology:

But we should not imagine that these are future uses. Already we have been using everyday products that utilize this technology. Here is a website which lists current uses. We will list some of them: abrasives, catalysts, cosmetics, electronic devices, magnetics, pigments and coatings, structural ceramics, products for industrial applications and products for cosmetic applications. This sounds kind of boring but read the website we gave you to see specifics. You will be surprised. You can go here for some future applications. We will speaking more about these future applications the rest of this series.

But are there any DANGERS to Nanotechnology?? Some think so. Some have said that the government is being too quick in the approval of Nanotechnology. The standard concerns are for the effects this technology will have on the human body, the environment, etc. BUT there are other concerns of a more spectacular nature, by the name of something called "Grey Goo." There is another danger called ""Green Goo" which involves nanobiotech entities self-reproducing and eliminating life on Earth. In 1986, Eric Drexler, a pioneer in Nanotechnology wrote a book named Engines of Creation in which he described the Grey Goo scenario:

Imagine such a replicator floating in a bottle of chemicals, making copies of itself....the first replicator assembles a copy in one thousand seconds, the two replicators then build two more in the next thousand seconds, the four build another four, and the eight build another eight. At the end of ten hours, there are not thirty-six new replicators, but over 68 billion. In less than a day, they would weigh a ton; in less than two days, they would outweigh the Earth; in another four hours, they would exceed the mass of the Sun and all the planets combined - if the bottle of chemicals hadn't run dry long before.

Drexler later said that this danger could be contained if a machine of this sort was not made and let loose out in the wild. But of course this does not prevent someone from weaponizing such a machine for destruction and mayhem. Some"attempts" to reassure us were made with this ominous statement made in 2004:
So-called grey goo could only be the product of a deliberate and difficult engineering process, not an accident,” said Phoenix. “Far more serious is the possibility that a large-scale and convenient manufacturing capacity could be used to make incredibly powerful non-replicating weapons in unprecedented quantity. This could lead to an unstable arms race and a devastating war. Policy investigation into the effects of advanced nanotechnology should consider this as a primary concern, and runaway replication as a more distant issue.

We hope they can give us better reassurances in the near future! We will write more on this threat and others in the future.


Jeremiah Bilas said...

The threat exists. Kurzweil suggests placing nanobots which could detect out of control replicating nanobots and stoping them. This may be a solution, either way the production of carbon replicating nano bots will be created out of malicious intent. Lets keep technology open and transparent so we can stay one step ahead of the terrorists AKA terrans.

nanopicker said...

Intro to Nanotech