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The Scientist: More Info

The Future of Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology - image of fullerenes

Just a few of the long-term possibilities for nanotechnology listed by The Institute of Nanotechnology include:

  • Extremely miniaturized data storage systems such as entire libraries on a chip or 1,000 hours of movies on a chip
  • Replacements for human tissues and organs (already a nano-bone material is available)
  • Cheap hydrogen storage for a regenerative energy economy
  • Lightweight plastic windows with hard transparent protective layers

Even before basic technical questions have been answered, ethical and social issues about nanotechnology have surfaced. Eric Drexler, the researcher who made the term "nanotechnology" popular also coined the phrase "gray goo" to describe the scenario of nano-sized robots self-replicating and spreading over the world, consuming everything in sight. Since such robots are impossible to make even at the macro scale at present, it strikes most scientists as absurd to worry about them being made at the nano-scale. Drexler, himself, has backed off of his early comments to confirm that replicating nano-machines are highly unlikely.

What some toxicologists do worry about are the possibilities for inhaled nanoparticles to enter the bloodstream or even cross the blood-brain barrier, which prevents toxins and other harmful substances from reaching the brain. Others are concerned that nanoparticles could be in the soil, ingested by earthworms, and work their way up the food chain. Several institutions are studying the health effects of nanoparticles, but because nanotechnology will involve so many products and types of molecules, individual studies will be needed on a product-by-product basis.

An excellent article on the "Myths and Realities of Nano Futures" is at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/3920685.stm.

For an amazingly extensive and up-to-date listing of nanotech products:

http://www.azonano.com/Applications.asp

These sites offer simple explanations of nano-science for educators:

http://www.howstuffworks.com/nanotechnology.htm

http://www.nanoscience.cam.ac.uk/schools/nano/index.html

For more ethics, visit The Center for Responsible Nanotechnology's web site:

http://crnano.org/

More on the social implications of nanotechnology from "Nature" magazine:

http://www.nature.com/cgi-taf/DynaPage.taf?file=/nature/journal/v424/n6946/full/424246a_fs.html

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National Science Foundation Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Maine Forest Products Council Irving Woodlands, LLC Desiree Carlson, M.D. More Connected. More Maine.

Major funding is provided by the National Science Foundation.
Additional funding is provided by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Maine Forest Products Council, Irving Woodlands LLC., Desiree Carlson, M.D., and gifts to More Connected. More Maine, The Campaign for Maine Public Broadcasting Network's Programming.

A list of other funders includes:
The Davis Family Foundation, Margaret E. Burnham Charitable Trust, and Lincoln Ladd.

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