The summary was taken from the website www.zyvex.com/nano/ . It is the best non-technical source of information to date on nanotechnology. A more technical source is Nanotechnology: A Gentle Introduction to the NEXT BIG IDEA by Mark Ratner and Daniel Ratner (ISBN 0-13-1010400-5, pbk.).
A recent and very popular novel based upon nanotechnology is Prey by Michael Crighton (ISBN 0-06-621412-2).
What Does Nano Mean?
The prefix “nano” means one billionth. One nanometer is one billionth of a meter. The human hair is 50,000 nanometers across.
The Significance of Nanotechnology
4 Within fifty to a hundred years, a new class of organisms is likely to emerge. These organisms will be artificial in the sense that they will originally be designed by humans. However, they will reproduce and will “evolve” into something other than their original form; they will be “alive” under any reasonable definition of the word. These organisms will evolve in a fundamentally different manner…the pace will be extremely rapid. They will be artificial organisms.
4 Nanotechnology gives man the potential to manufacture products in the same manner nature manufactures products –one molecule at a time.
Manufactured products are made from atoms. The properties of those products depend on how the atoms are arranged. If we rearrange the atoms in coal we can make diamonds. If we rearrange the atoms in sand (and add a few other trace elements) we can make computer chips. If we rearrange the atoms in dirt, water and air; we can make potatoes.
Through nanotechnology man will be able to rearrange atoms in ways that don’t occur in nature and, as a result, be able to produce new products.
Today’s manufacturing methods are very crude at the molecular level. Castings, grinding, welding and milling move atoms in great thundering statistical herds. Nanotechnology builds products one molecule at a time. This allows for a new generation of products that are smaller, cleaner, purer, stronger, lighter and more precise.
Molecular manufacturing also has the capability of producing products that replicate themselves or create new products (artificial life). Self-replication allows for manufacturing costs that don’t greatly exceed the cost of the required materials and energy.
Molecular manufacturing requires the development of positional assembly devices that get the right atoms in the right places. Potatoes for example, are made by intricate molecular machines involving tens of thousands of genes, proteins and other molecular components. Put a potato in a little moist dirt, provide it with some air and sunlight and it will reassemble the atoms into potatoes ad infinitum. Potatoes are self-replicating.
Another capability of molecular manufacturing is to produce products that repair themselves much like the body repairs itself.
Examples of Nanotechnology Products
4 Products that prevent corrosion and make bridges maintenance free
4 Materials that prevent stains in clothing, eliminating a trip to the dry cleaner
4 Wind shields that do not get wet and thereby eliminate windshield wipers and icing
4 Self-cleaning bathroom tile and bed sheets that kill any bacteria or virus
4 Tires that repair themselves and prevent flats
4 Eyeglass cleaner that repairs scratches
4 One cable the size of a human thumb that would support the weight of the Golden Gate Bridge
4 Solutions that encapsulate the molecules in suntan lotion so that the molecules do not touch the skin and cause irritation
4 Food packaging that can sense spoiled food
4 Materials that encapsulate DNA from healthy lung cells - when inhaled they go into the lung, seek out cancerous cells and replace them with healthy DNA