Nanotechnology (nanotech) is the manipulation of matter on an atomic and molecular scale. The rising capabilities of nanotech are already taking effect on our world. Further advances will go on to revolutionise every aspect of our lives; beginning within just a decade.
What is Nanotechnology?
Nanotechnology (nanotech) is technology based on materials, the single units of which, are smaller than 1000 nanometers, but usually smaller than 100 nm. At this scale, the technology is invisible to the unaided human eye; a sheet of newspaper is about 100,000 nanometers thick.
When materials have been manipulated to have one or more of their dimensions under 100 nanometres, they take on different properties – breaking their usual physical and chemical rules. For example, their strength, ability to conduct electricity and rate of reactivity increase massively; solids such as gold turn into liquids at room temperature, silver shows increased antimicrobial properties, inert materials like platinum and gold become catalysts, and stable materials like aluminium become combustible. The result is that we are given access to a more advanced level of construction materials.
Nanotechnologies can be used across all fields of science: Chemistry, biology, physics, materials science, and engineering. But its potential for good will be matched by its potential for bad – regulations for new nanotechnologies will need to be considered carefully as the technology advances.
Treat this page as an introduction. The issues surrounding this introduction will have impacts on our world, greater than the impacts of all humanities past revolutions combined. I won’t get too in-depth here, but will hopefully display the most important issues.
Please comment at the bottom of the page with anything you think should be included.
Latest in depth articles on the subject, to the right.
When the Revolution will Begin
The revolutionary effects of nanotechnology are set to occur in phases. Phase 1 will feature the structures that are relatively easy to create. These structures are called ‘passive nanostructures’ – They are simple, steady or quasi-steady structures that are defined as capable of mechanical behavior and chemical reactivity. Examples of these structures include, graphene, carbon nanotubes, and super-hydrophobic coatings. You can read more, in our article Phase One of the Nanotech Revolution has Begun.
Phase 2 will feature the much more complex, ‘active nanostructures’: If passive nanostructures were the materials needed to make the bicycle, then active nanostructures would be the bicycle itself. The active structures are defined as able to change their state during operation – examples include new nanoscale transistors, amplifiers, actuators, plasmonics, fluidics, molecular machines, light-driven molecular motors, and laser-emitting devices. The components can be used in nanoelectromechanical systems, which will enable the next phases of the revolution.
If the current exponential rate of our technological advance continues, then within the next decade, the revolution will move progressively into both its 2nd and 3rd phases. Phase 3 devices are already in the design phase, and so once it is possible to create phase 2 structures, it will be possible to begin creating the phase 3 devices. The transition from phase 2 to phase 3 is featured in our most popular article, Superhumans Created by Nanotechnology Within 30 Years.
Phase 3 devices are described as ‘molecular nanosystems’, and can feature both passive and active nanostructures. It can be described as bringing the structures to life: each molecule in the devices will have a specific role, enabling the device to behave much like biological systems – such as a red blood cells. You can find out more about the types of devices in development, over at the website for the Center for Nanotechnology in Society, Arizona State University.
Phase 4 of the nanotechnology revolution, could begin in as little as 30 years. This will be the era of the ‘nanobots’. The nanobots will be capable of gaining electrical power from their environment (eg. from glucose or solar power); they will have their own quantum computational abilities; and they will be able to wirelessly network. These types of devices will have an incomprehensible effect on the way we live. The most interesting proposed capabilities we will gain, is the ability to connect our minds to the internet, and immortality.
What Nanotechnology will Revolutionise
It is hard to think of anything that nanotechnology will not revolutionise; so the answer for now is – everything; the future it offers is incomprehensible. To give you an idea of the world we are moving into, listed below are some key examples of upcoming nanotechnology revolutions.
Renewable Clean Energy
The future will be powered by the sun, via nanotechnology. Energy will be collected decentrally, at our homes, and our local solar power stations. And what’s better – the sun is not gonna ask you to pay for it. Nanotechnology will allow our solar cells to be massively improved, and the costs will plummet. Battery technology must also be improved for this future – and this upgrade will also be supplied by nanotechnology. Clearly revolutionary; your car will run efficiently on a battery and solar panel; long distance power lines can be torn down; no more need for oil, or old hazardous versions of nuclear power; scrap the wind turbines.
Sounds quite incredible right? Something to keep in mind as we run through these revolutions, is the massive reductions in the cost of living. For more information about the future of solar power, I recommend this article from the National Geographic. For more information about upcoming improvements in battery power, I have an article, here, and there is an overview over at the Battery University.
Recently a new nanotech water filtration system was developed, by Michael Pritchard. If this filtration system is incorporated into the water delivery industry, it is predicted that the cost of water per year per household will be less than $3. More information about the new water purification system can be found at the Scientific American.
Radically Improving Health and Longevity
To the point: Immortality! Eventually. There is much that needs to be done before we all get ourselves our own forever young body. But exponential growth could see it happen in as little as 30 years. Learn more about the process on our central immortality information page. Immortality could first be achieved through biological means, as explained by Aubrey de Grey. But immortal, disease and damage resistant bodies will eventually be perfected through nanotechnology enhancements.
Nanobots will be used to perfect the functions of our bodies. Already, microbivore nanobots are being developed to replace antibiotics: They will be able to search and destroy harmful bacteria in our bodies. Similar nanobots could be used to destroy viruses. They will be able to repair damaged tissue, as explained here. Not only can they be used to maintain our bodies – they could enhance us: Find out more about this in our article, Superhumans Created by Nanotechnology Within 30 Years.
Radically Enhancing Computing Power
Quantum computing (a nanotechnology) is predicted to replace the traditional computer chip as the spearhead of computing power, within a decade – becoming billions of times more powerful than our current computers, within only 30 years. Find out what quantum computing is, at How Stuff Works.
The first quantum computers will be able to hack any encryption within a practical timeframe – allowing its users access to any ‘protected’ data that exists on the internet. Therefore, the technology will be a complete game changer for the internet. There will be demand for immensely complex regulation, during its take off.
Resources for Further Research
The website will evolve to dig further into the issues surrounding nanotechnology. For now though, we only have the basics; so I will go on now to run through the main topics, to give you a base for expanding your research. Please leave comments about issues/resources you think should be added.
Listed below are websites and articles which display nanotech breakthroughs and more examples of upcoming revolutions. Included in the list, you with find information about new cancer therapies, and contact lenses with ‘heads up display’:
- 10 Nanotech Breakthroughs You Should Know About (Updated)
- Learn About Nanotechnology in Cancer
- Nanotechnology in cancer prevention, detection and treatment: bright future lies ahead
- Carbon Nanotubes (CNT) in Construction Material Reinforcement
- What you need to know about nano-food
- Nanotechnology can launch a new age of space exploration
- Samsung Reveals Major Graphene Breakthrough
- Breakthrough in Battery Nanotechnology
- New nano-material could boost solar panel efficiency as high as 80%
- Shiny quantum dots brighten future of solar cells
- Super-Hydrophobic Coating
- Big nanotech: an unexpected future
- New nanotechnology “traps” viruses before they infect host cells
Warnings of Potential Dangers
The future of nanotechnology is not all as rosy as that sea of red roses painted above. Some see that same sea of red – but it’s not made of roses. We must understand that any interpretation of that picture could become reality:
- Advantages and Disadvantages of Nanotechnology
- The Bad, The Nanoethics Group
- Nanotechnology has a dark side: nanoparticles shown to cause brain damage
- 5 Emerging Technologies that could Destroy the World
- Our Grey Goo Future: Possibility and Probability
- The Big Risk of Small Particles: The Threats and Promise of Nanotechnology
- The Foresight Institute
- United States National Nanotechnology Initiative
- United Kingdom Institute of Nanotechnology
- Nanotechnology in City Environments Database
- Nanotechnology Now
- PhysOrg, Nanotechnology
- The Guardian, Nanotechnology
- Scientific American, Nanotechnology