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December 31st, 2013
From writing your name on rice to swarms of microscopic warriors, nanostructures have opened a new world of imagination where science and fiction merge. In 1956, author Arthur C. Clarke wrote one of the first mainstream stories about minute robot creations. Now the burgeoning field of nanotechnology holds promise for everything from cancer cures to mechanical repair for aerospace to fraud prevention devices.
The concept of billionth of a meter-sized robots is a bit of an inaccuracy. Nanostructures, or nanites as Sci-Fi writers have named them, are usually some material that has an interactive property when exposed to the right electrochemical environment. The material from which a nanite is made is really where the science lies. If you need your nanostructure to be strong, then cellulose nanocrystals have been found to have the same compression strength as steel. Cellulose, which is the same material that gives trees their strength, is environmentally safe, renewable and abundant.
Carbon, one of the most abundant elements on earth, is the basis for nanotube technology. These carbon sheets are rolled into tubes that are a billionth of a meter in diameter but can be millimeters long. The properties of these tubes, first developed in 1991 by S. Iijima, are still being explored and disputed. Each of the possible shapes and lengths has different assets with a variety of applications within thermal dynamics, optics and electronics. This technology is so hot and rapidly changing that Michigan State University launched a http://nanotube.msu.edu/">website devoted to link sharing on the topic.
Good and Evil
In Clarke’s short story, "The Next Tenant," the microstructures are the creation of a mad scientist with hopes of repopulating the world. Nanotechnology has had a rocky ethical foothold from the beginning, including bioethical concerns of human immortality and worries of military single-target applications. In a recent study published in the journal Public Understanding of Science, researchers showed that mass media has a significant effect on the public's perception of nanotechnology. It indicated that elaborative processing, the cognitive method for creating association with words to meaning, links the positive applications of nanotechnology more strongly than the negative ones.
Simply put, nanotechnology is being linked to human survival. Scientists have created a DNA clamp that can create a triple helix as a cure for cancer. The flip side of this science is that it can be used to bioengineer DNA structures for military or socially-Darwinistic reasons.
Wide Range of Applications
Nanotechnology has a long list of applications that do not have ethical concerns. Fraud prevention is one of them. One of the best TV accessoriesthat a retail shopper can have allows them to verify authenticity of a device. There has been a huge surge in counterfeit electronics, coming mainly from China, which has affected retail consumers and government purchasers alike. In a CBS News report, a military investigation committee found 1,800 cases of counterfeit electronic parts that were sold to the Pentagon.
Fraud prevention experts are using nanotechnology to combat this problem. Tracking dots, called T-dots, are microscopic structures that carry property information on them. This data can be read by specially designed scanners that can verify authenticity of a produced. Some T-dots have global positioning systems embedded within them and solar cells to maintain power. This technology is also being used in the fashion industry and in document management. Some printers have tracking dots on their output, meaning that a document can be linked to the printer that produced it.