The Future of Nanotechnology

By: Tony Wang

We’ve all dreamt of what the future will hold. Perhaps there will be flying cars that can travel faster than planes, or maybe we will have sentient robots that follow our every command, or, as ridiculous as it sounds, we might even have livable colonizations on other planets! Now, despite the uniqueness of each of these predictions, they all share something in common: they display our ambitious hopes for the future of humanity. With that being said, there is a form of technology that we are actively working with and researching today that is not only overlooked by many, but could also be a major contribution to us fulfilling these predictions. Interestingly, this form of technology isn’t massive or flashy; rather, it is microscopic. In fact, it is tinier than the smallest organism in the world! It is known by most as nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology revolves around the study of substances that can be measured with the nanoscale, which includes materials between 1 to 100 nanometers long. One of the reasons nanotechnology is important is that the properties of materials can differ greatly depending on its size. For instance, a metal with a size of around ten nanometers can be as much as seven times harder and tougher than the same metal with a size around one hundred nanometers. This can be explained through quantum physics. According to quantum physics, the properties of a substance are determined by the average of all of the quantum forces acting upon the substance’s atoms. As a substance becomes smaller and smaller, these quantum forces have a greater impact on it, affecting the optical, electrical, and magnetic behavior of the material. Interestingly, some materials that are not reactive in their larger form are reactive when produced in their nanoscale form. This variation in the properties of materials lets scientists tailor materials to their needs and vastly increases their options in regards to utilizing the material in construction as well as other ventures.

Flickr @ Oregon State University

By exploiting the unique properties of materials on the nanoscale, scientists are able to use this nanotechnology to gradually improve many different industries. In fact, over the years, the list of advancements due to the usage of nanotechnology in a myriad of fields has grown greatly. Some of these advancements include the following: making clothes more resistant to wrinkling, saving large amounts of fuel by making spacecrafts lighter in weight, improving sunscreen so that it protects the user from the sun while remaining invisible on the skin, and the development of better imaging and diagnostic tools in the medical field. Furthermore, keep in mind that this is after only a total of 35 years of nanoscience research and development. It’s astonishing to think that nanotechnology has been able to deliver such a variety of benefits in such a short period of time.

And things will only grow from here; in their quest to improve their products by creating smaller components and higher quality materials at a lower cost, it’s highly likely that the number of companies that utilize nanoproducts will grow rapidly over the next few decades. Because of this, even though truly revolutionary nanotech products are still years away from being developed, nanotechnology has already proved that it is the future of many fields. One can only imagine how it will contribute to the advancement of the human race in the years to come.


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What Did You Learn?


1. Why does nanotechnology only include man-made objects?

Nanotechnology only includes man-made objects, as, otherwise, fields like molecular biology and organic chemistry could be classified as nanotechnology. Nanotechnology specifically involves man-made objects that serve a purpose, hence that's why it is a type of technology. These classifications serve as a way to ensure that there is no mingling between each of these fields of science, since without them, there could be several points for confusion.

2. How big is a nanometer?

A nanometer is one billionth of a meter. For reference, the human hair is between 80,000 to 100,000 nanometers wide. An atom measures between 0.1 to 0.5 nanometers in diameter. A human red blood cell is 6,000 to 8,000 nanometers across.

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