Nanotechnology is a science in its infancy, with unforeseen potential in its wake. Through it, science explores the molecular world of atoms and molecules with the intention of rebuilding and replenishing our usable materials, as well as creating new and improved materials along the way.
This technology works within the nanoscale dimension of measurement where one nanometer is equal to one millionth of a meter. This is the scale in which the atoms and molecules of our world exist. To manipulate components within this small scale, part of the challenge nanotechnology faces is the building of tools and machines that can work within this environment.
In 2007, $60 billion dollars worth of nano-manufactured merchandise were sold, though none were manufactured molecule by molecule. As of yet, nanotechnology has been used to create synthetic materials like bicycle frames, tennis rackets and steel tubing, all of which are lighter and stronger. The actual molecular manufacturing of materials has yet to be designed.
The potential to remake materials from the inside-out opens up a whole new manufacturing process which uses the fundamental building blocks of our universe. This ability will allow finished products to be customized to order, meaning a myriad of possible product selections depending on what set of atoms and molecules are used.
Currently, much research is being done on the self-organizing capabilities of organic materials. The self-assembling features of DNA, proteins and enzymes are what scientists are looking to replicate on a molecular level. Nanotechnologists hope to incorporate these self-organizing principles within the process of molecular manufacturing.
One of the most distinguishing aspects of nano-particles (atoms and molecules) is how their chemical and physical properties differ from materials on the macro, or life-size, scale. Nano-particles are shown to be more volatile and reactive. This is attributed to the increased surface area these raw components are exposed to in the nano state.
Nano-particles can be a different color than their macro-sized forms. An example of this is copper, which is an opaque color, but becomes transparent at nano-scale. Some particles, like aluminum, a stable material in macro-scale, become combustible when reduced to a nano-particle. It’s these types of material reactions and states that make nanotechnology a new, fresh field of exploration.
The environmental implications posed by nanotechnological research and development is, as of yet, unknown. There are concerns that nano-particles, small as they are, can infiltrate areas of our environment without detection. Concerns have also surfaced regarding the more nuclear aspects of nanotechnology research.
Health and safety issues are under question in regard to product use by consumers, and for employees working inside molecular manufacturing environments. A study carried out by the University of Rochester showed physical residues of nano-particle agents in the brain and lung tissues of rats exposed to nano-particles. These residues were reported to cause inflammation and stress responses.
Tighter regulatory structures have been recommended, however it is undetermined as to what agency, or government body is suited to oversee the nanotechnological manufacturing industry.
- Photo Credit http://www.nanostartech.com/, http://www.internationalunity.org/, http://www.nanotech-now.com/
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