Nano Technology the Future of Molecular Manufacturing

Nanotechnology is commonly viewed as the technology of the tiniest machines possible. At the size of an atom, with the diameters of about 100 molecules, that is awfully small! But nano assemblies also involve rearranging matter to create new properties through the methods of quantum mechanics and specific technologies. In other words, nano machines can also be seen as ways to change or manage the properties of matter, itself.

The interest in nanotechnology is demonstrated by governments, which have created a boom in investment between 1997 and 2005, topping out at 2.1 billion in 2005, and being matched, maybe outstripped by commercial investment. The expectation is that, by 2015 there might be over 1 trillion in investment and jobs for over 2 million workers.

What was the first focus of nanotechnology during the 2000s? Perhaps the structures of the reinforcing fibers in composite materials, or wires in microscopic or super miniaturized electronic devices. By 2005, the focus expanded on nano devices that can change their shape, structure or properties when in use for drug delivery and transistor or amplification purposes. In other words, nanotechnology provides a way to control matter with the ultimate precision, according to the description of a Cornell University nanotechnology symposium description.  Imagine a nano drug that could change into a disease fighter when it reaches diseased tissue or a tiny amplifier that works when certain conditions are met!

Next comes guided self assembly into entire three dimensional circuits, structures, devices and assemblies. Artificial organs or tissue could be constructed.

After guided self assembly comes nano systems that operate in the ways that cells operate. Only nano systems will be able to operate without such sensitivity and need for specific conditions, such as temperature and chemistry! As computing and robotics become more functional, nano technology will allow more miniaturization, and possibly self replication to operate in the same way as genetically driven processes.

In 2007, a Cornell University Symposium had lectures concerning nanotubes for electronics and optics, synthetic biology, nano fabrication, x-rays, genetic issues, and cellular mechanics. Fortunately, there were also lectures on ethics, regulation and governance of the technology, indicating that the scientific community is incorporating these factors into the early stages of this new technology as opposed to past technologies where such issues were dealt with only after problems arose.

Toxcity and environmental impact are serious concerns that will permeate the future of nanotechnology. Also economics on a global scale will be affected. Finally, the worst of gloom and doom is on the minds of many who have the knowledge and the imagination to foresee the misuse of nanotechnology in military and even criminal applications.

 Imagine being able to control millions of people with just the threat that nano devices will be released on them. Or imagine being able to break down the locking apparatus of safes or to make incursions into secure facilities! Even the idea of birth control, fertility or genetic modification of sperm and eggs has to be considered.

And then, there is the “grey goo”, which is the idea that self replicating nano devices will find a way to locate their own raw material in the environment and to replicate into a mass so large that it is visible to the naked eye, growing ever voracious and ever larger to consume everything in sight!

As a result, the future of nanotechnology, much more than any scientific advancements in history, will be closely monitored in light of any anticipated problems that will call for ethical, regulatory, preventive, corrective or governing requirements. Also, the sociopolitical and psychological reaction to some of the goals of nanotechnology will create unanticipated reactions either of acceptance and voracious demand, or of resistance and even restriction through criminal sanctions.

Wikipedia, “Nanotechnology”

Mihail C. Rocco, “Nanotechnology’s Future”, Scientific American, August 2006

“Future Of Technology A Celebration of the 30th Anniversary of the Cornell NanoScale Science & Technology Facility”, Cornell University, 2007