Nanotechnology is one of the most exciting engineering feats of all time yet very few people know about it. This is partially because the science is still in its infancy and partially because it isn’t as easy to explain as other feats but if you can understand all of the possibilities of nanotechnology it is hard not to be excited.
At its most basic nanotechnology is the manipulation of matter at 100 nanometers or less. The numbers aren’t what is important to the average person though. Instead, what is important is what it is likely to mean to us in the next years.
The first and most obvious use of nanotechnology is in computing. One of the key limiting factors in modern computers is distance. This is because the speed of the electrons is set and so by making it move less distance you increase the speed. Nanotechnology would be the final step in this by creating computer circuitry at the molecular level. At this level of technology computers would actually have more computational power pound for pound than the human brain.
The next use is that of molecular motors. This is the concept of a protein that includes motion. These proteins have traditionally been naturally occurring but with the advances in nanotechnology it appears that we will be able to create them in the next years. This would allow for the building of all types of machines at the molecular level and open up whole new worlds of possibilities. Consider the ability to build any tool you can imagine at any size.
Molecular motors would ideally lead to nanorobotics. These are generally what they sound like. Microscopic robots capable of being self sufficient and possible to replicate. Once several technological hurdles are leaped this could allow for nanorobots that could be put into the human body to fight diseases, repair organs, clear arteries and many other medical procedures. They could also be useful in the creation of nanocomputers.
The other major technology that is hoped for is that of programmable matter. The concept of programmable matter is to create artificial atoms that would allow for a person to easily change the properties of an object. This could include the objects shape, density, appearance and more. If this technology reaches the potential some believe it has it could start a revolution as important as the industrial revolution. Imagine a Swiss army knife but instead of tools you pull out the tool itself changes to what you need.
Nanotechnology is still very young, and though all we have been able to do so far is to write IBM with atoms and create the world’s smallest
lever this is a good first step and once this revolution begins it could become as important to the next century as electricity was to the last.