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December 14th, 2009
What's the next big thing?
After two decades nanotechnology, the science of engineering materials on the nanoscale for powerful applications, is finally emerging from laboratories into the marketplace.
According to the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, there are now more than 1,000 products on the market that have some sort of nanomaterial in them.
"Nano has made it into the marketplace, but we've got a ways to go before we get the really, truly revolutionary stuff that everyone's been hyping for a long time," said Wade Adams, director of Rice University's Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology.
Those really, really big projects include items such as space elevators and submarinelike nanobots that would swim in the body's bloodstream and heal disease.
"But they've moved from the realm of impossible to truly hard engineering projects," Adams said.
Nanotechnology still should make a meaningful impact on medicine during the next five to 10 years. Adams noted that a cancer therapy called nanoshells, developed by Jennifer West and Naomi Halas, has moved into Phase II clinical trials.
And the field of disease diagnosis is also progressing rapidly. Adams said within a few years he expects to see a tiny chip that can use a bit of saliva to diagnose, within minutes, whether a person with chest pains is having a heart attack or rule it out.
Similar nano-enabled microchip technology might be able to detect various cancers from saliva, as well as a host of other diseases. Such tests could save time and countless health care dollars.
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