What is Nanotechnology?
Nanotechnology this, Nanotechnology that. This buzzword is bandied around nowadays, as frequently as a household celebrity. Yet, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that this biotechnology of the future is more useful to society than the likes of Kim Kardashin.
Nanotechnology operates on a mind-bogglingly small-scale, known as the nanoscale. A nanometre is roughly one billionth of a metre. High school Biology lessons gave us a good idea about just how tiny a single living cell is. Now, imagine if a cell were a large city. A nanometer would represent a single car in this analogy.
In essence, Nanotechnology is the art of engineering at this unfathomably small scale. Put another way, it is concerned with manipulating individual atoms to change their properties to the benefit of humankind.
The concept of Nanotechnology can be traced back to an ingenius physicist named Richard Feyman. In 1959, he postulated that atoms could be tampered with in order to build tiny machines.
At first glance, this may sound like a lacklustre idea. However, when you consider that machines have traditionally been manufactured from bulk materials – automobiles from steel, microchips from silicon – and that nanotechnology aims to make machines out of complex molecules, which are unobservable by the naked eye, nanotechnology is suddenly a more impressive feat.
Nanotechnology opens up a world of possibilities which could radically alter industries as wide-ranging as healthcare, electronics, energy and construction. Yet, because nanotechnology is concerned with such an extreme and unexplored scale, we’ve only just scratched the surface of its potential.
What we do know though, is that nanomaterials possess superhuman properties such as legendary strength to weight ratios and a never-before-seen ability to conduct electricity.
Why Should we Care about Nanotechnology?
The applications of Nanotechnology can seem so futuristic and far-fetched that to the uniformed, it is dismissed as a science fiction-like dream. Yet, dig a bit deeper and you’ll find that nanomaterials are a key ingredient in more than 1000 consumer products including cosmetics and cars.
So, Nanotechnology is real, practical, and here to stay. It’s more than just a single technology, it’s a whole new toolkit – an entirely new methodology of tackling seriously complex problems.
For instance, spider silk, as any Spiderman fan will know, has a herculean level of strength, while also being tensile. Lotus leaves are famed for their aptitude to repel water. In decades gone by, we could only marvel at these qualities. With Nanotechnology, we can replicate them – and in the laboratory.
The world should take an interest in Nanotechnology simply because it has the potential to change just about everything. No longer need we dream about miniscule computer chips or machines that repair human arteries. Our lifespans are about to get longer and our energy cleaner.
Nanotechnology has arrived.
Nanotechnology Applications: Graphene
Graphene, is simply better than the rest; it is the superman of substances.
Let’s start with size. Being the thinnest material on the planet, one million times thinner than a single strand of hair has its uses. Slimness is often a good predictor of the strength of the material. Graphene bucks the trend; it is tougher than diamond, the toughest material on the planet. Toughness generally implies inflexibility. Graphene laughs at this notion, in the knowledge that it is stretchier than rubber. The icing on the cake? It conducts electricity better than any substance on the planet.
Yes, just about every quality of grapheme begs for it to be inscribed in legend. You’d have thought that it was discovered through careful trial and error, over a long period of time. To the contrary, a pair of Russian émigrés took on a “Friday night experiment” which involved peeling layers of a pencil with sticky tape until they isolated a one-atom thick version of graphite.
This supermaterial has some unbelievable applications for us, which could become a reality in the not so distant future. For ease of reading, these are listed below:
- Super-fast Uploads: Download a Terabit in a second
- Charge your phone in 5 seconds
- Cleaning up Fukushima’s radioactive waste
- New generation tennis rackets
- Transforming salt water into drinking water
- Super thin, unbreakable touch screens
- People with spinal injuries could re-learn how to use their limbs
These uses are only the tip of the iceberg. Graphene is like a chessboard, allowing one to place their pawns where they so please. The trick lies in finding the right positions. The possibilities are endless.
Either way, being 200 times stronger than steel and six times lighter, and being impermeable to gases, the future is bright with grapehen.
As one Annick Loiseau says from the National Office for Aerospace and Research (ONERA) claims,
“The Future Lies in Pencil Graphite!”