Every Material is sight is made from atoms. The arrangement of atoms, however, decides the properties of materials.If we rearrange atoms in coal, we can make diamond. If we rearrange atoms in sand (and add a few other trace elements) we can make computer chips. If we rearrange atoms in dirt, water and air we can make potatoes. The present manufacturing methods are very crude. They do not work at the molecular level. The casting, grinding, milling and even lithography move atoms in huge numbers. The nanotechnology is about arranging the atoms precisely abd in desired sequence. if we are able to snap together the fundamental building blocks of nature easily, inexpensively and in most of the ways permitted by the laws of physics and chemistry, we have a revolution in waiting.
The word “nanotechnology” has become very population and is used to describe many types of research where the characteristic dimensions are less than about 1,000 nanometers. For example, continued improvements in lithography have resulted in line widths that are less than one micros: this work is often called “nanotechnology.”
- Whatever we call it, it should let us
- Get essentially every atom in the right place.
- Make almost any structure consistent with the laws of physics and chemistry that we can specify in molecular details.
- Have manufacturing costs not greatly exceeding the cost of required raw materials and energy.
One should be happy with any method that simultaneously achieves these three objectives. However, this seems difficult without using some from of position assembly (to get the right molecular parts in the right places) and some form of self-replication (to keep the costs down). The need for positional assembly implies an interest in molecular robotics, e.g., robotic devices that are molecular both in their size and precision. These molecular scale positional devices are likely to resemble very small versions of their everyday macroscopic counterparts. The idea of manipulating and positioning individual atoms and molecules is still new and will take some getting sued to. However, as Feynman said in a classic talk in 1959: “The principles of physics, as far as I can see, do not speak against the possibility of maneuvering things atom by atom.” We need to apply at the molecular scale the concept that has demonstrated its effectiveness at the macroscopic scale: making parts go where we want by putting them where we want! The requirement for low cost creates an interest in self-replicating manufacture systems, studied by Von Neumann in the 1940’s. These systems are able both to make copies of themselves and to manufacture useful products. If we can design and build one such system the manufacturing costs for more such systems and the products they make (assuming they can make copies of themselves in some reasonable inexpensive environment) will be very low. Current products include chemicals produced with microscopic catalytic particles, sun lotions with invisibly small zinc-oxide flakes to shield against ultraviolet rays, emulsifiers that keep paint from separating, and coating that make eyeglass lenses more scratch resistant or extend the life of industrial tools.
So far, though, the nano market is small. Estimated sales of buckyballs, nanotubes, and other nonomaterials vary widely but reasonable estimate might be $50 million. However, products made partly with nanomaterials were worth $26.5 billion in 2003, reckons NanoMat, a materials-oriented network of research labs and companies based in Karlsruhe, Germany. More alluring products can be found in company labs, but many need a year or two to reach the market because new manufacturing systems also must be developed. Samsung Electronics Co., Motorola Inc, and other electronics giants are working on super sharp flat-screen displays for TVs, computer, and handheld gizmos, Today’s LCD’s power officiates as they are still big drains on batteries.
Other benefits and uses.
Nanotechnology will also benefit owners of current laptops, Batteries made with carbon nanotubes and nanoscale lithium particles could store higher energy densities, last twice as long, and recharge faster. Because nanotubes are the best heat countertops yet found, they could help keep the batteries in electric cars charged by recovering the energy lost as heat when a driver stomps on a car’s brake. And nanotubes gas-tank clusters could store hydrogen for fuel-cell- powered cars, thus curbing pollution.
Nanotubes re also stronger than steel, so long filaments could create super tough, fiber-reinforced plastics. These material could slash the weight of planes, spaceships, and ground vehicles. The Pentagon figures that nanotubes will yield better radar-absorbing coatings and help make its plane ships, and tanks stealthier. If nanotech lives up to its promise in aerospace, says David O. Swain, Chief Technology Officer at Boeing Co. it will be an unbelievable brake-through.” For space travel, he adds, its importance would be “almost a bigger step than going from propellers to jets.”
Pharmaceutical companies cannot wait to use nanotech to discover and deliver drugs. Today, highly sensitive microchips containing intact DNA can spot interactions between candidate antibiotic and target bugs. Remarkable as they are, such chips could be stuffed with 100,00 times smaller chemical labs-each of which is 100,00 times more sensitive- if they were made with nanotubes, according to Chad A. Mirking director of Northwestern University’s Institute of Nanotechnology, USA.
To deliver a drug to precise target and thus minimize side effects, bucyballs can be assembled into shapes that fit snugly into receptors on the surface of specific cells. The balls could be coated with drugs that disrupt the cell’s reproductive cycle. Such treatments are now in the labs for cancer, AIDS, and other diseases.
What is more, nanotubes are so thin that they can penetrate the skin without pain. So Therafuse Inc,. a Vista (Calif.) startup, is developing a skin patch for diabetics. It will draw blood through nanostaws to monitor glucose levels and inject insulin when required. Nanotech also offers “completely new systems” for detecting biohazards. Today, for example, we don’t have anything that can recognize the surface of an anthrax spore. So technicians have to crack a suspect spore to release and analyze its DNA. A minuscule “quill pen” that writes nanothin lines cando this. you can programme a computer to draw thousands of patterns based on educated guesses about unique features on the surface of an anthrax spore, find patterns that bind only to anthrax, then reproduce these for detection kits.
Computer and chip companies were among nanotech’s pioneers, and they remain big investors. But ironically, their payoff may be up to decade away, despite the remarkable progress posted by IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Hitachi, and others in developing nanoscale transistors and prototype nanotube circuits. However, silicon chips will keep getting better for at least another decade. Since the semiconductor industry has hundreds of billions of dollars tied up in silicon assets, nanochips may not make economic sense until silicon runs out of steam. Also, researchers still have a lot of work ahead in devising manufacturing methods that will reliably direct nanotubes to self-assemble into complex circuit designs.
Researchers may need help moving from their labs to nano startups, Entrepreneurs also need advice on nanotech’s intricacies. To meet these needs, the NanoBusiness Alliance was formed recently, and its 200 members are eyeing a huge potential jackpot. The National Science Foundation of the USA pegs nanotech as a one trillion dollar market by 2015.
That figure may be conservative. Lux Capital’s Wolfe points out that nanotech has started a snowball rolling, the likes of which has never been seen before. Physicists work with chemists who collaborate with materials scientists who talk to computer scientists teamed with biologists. Cross-fertilization that sued to be rare in the past is becoming common today. Big surprise really do come in small packages.