Nanotechnology: How Miniscule Science Will Save Mankind
Every day, it seems, a new team of researchers comes up with new ways to “nano.” And everything will be better for their efforts.
Revolutions in the 21st century won’t be televised. They’ll be Snapchatted, Instagrammed, tweeted, and YouTubed.
But what if you simply can’t see it?
That’s the case if it’s happening at the nanoscale — theoretically.
But thanks to Richard Feynman, one of the most famous physicists of the 20th century, we’re seeing real things made from the nanoscale up.
And Feynman’s ideas are still shaping innovations in such diverse fields as aerospace, biomedicine, computing, and communication.
He laid the foundation that led to carbon nanotubes, buckyballs, fullerenes, graphene, and other stuff made of nanoparticles.
According to the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), in 1959, Feynman “described a process in which scientists would be able to manipulate and control individual atoms and molecules,” basically inventing nanotechnology.
In 1984, he asked, “How small can you make machinery?” Pretty damn small, it turns out.
And we’re witnessing some truly fantastic achievements, as we described in the October 7, 2016, Wall Street Daily, including a molecular elevator, a molecular muscle, a molecule-based computer chip, a molecular motor, and a nanocar.
Think about these things for a moment: Nanotechnology is per the NNI, “science, engineering, and technology conducted at the nanoscale, which is about 1–100 nanometers.”
In addition to these super-tiny super-machines, we’re incorporating “nano” into production of materials and technologies that will make human-scale machines more durable, more efficient, and more informative.
When we talk about next-generation aircraft, next-generation wearable biomedical devices, and next-generation fiber-optic communication, the consistent theme is nano: nanotechnology, nanomaterials, nanophotonics.
For decades, manufacturers have used carbon fiber to make lighter sports equipment, stronger aircraft, and better textiles.
Now, as Dexter Johnson of IEEE Spectrum reports, carbon nanotubes will help make aerospace composites more efficient:
Now researchers at the University of Surrey’s Advanced Technology Institute (ATI), the University of Bristol’s Advanced Composite Centre for Innovation and Science (ACCIS), and aerospace company Bombardier have collaborated on the development of a carbon nanotube-enabled material set to replace the polymer sizing. The reinforced polymers produced with this new material have enhanced electrical and thermal conductivity, opening up new functional possibilities. It will be possible, say the British researchers, to embed gadgets such as sensors and energy harvesters directly into the material.
When it comes to flight, lighter is better, so building sensors and energy harvesters into the body of aircraft marks a significant leap forward.
Johnson also reports for IEEE Spectrum on a “novel hybrid nanomaterial” based on oscillations of electrons — a major advance in nanophotonics:
Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have developed a hybrid nanomaterial that enables the writing, erasing and rewriting of optical components. The researchers believe that this nanomaterial and the techniques used in exploiting it could create a new generation of optical chips and circuits.
Of course, the concept of rewritable optics is not altogether new; it forms the basis of optical storage mediums like CDs and DVDs. However, CDs and DVDs require bulky light sources, optical media and light detectors. The advantage of the rewritable integrated photonic circuits developed here is that it all happens on a 2-D material.
“To develop rewritable integrated nanophotonic circuits, one has to be able to confine light within a 2-D plane, where the light can travel in the plane over a long distance and be arbitrarily controlled in terms of its propagation direction, amplitude, frequency and phase,” explained Yuebing Zheng, a professor at the University of Texas who led the research… “Our material, which is a hybrid, makes it possible to develop rewritable integrated nanophotonic circuits.”
Who knew that mixing graphene with homemade Silly Putty would create a potentially groundbreaking new material that could make “wearables” actually useful?
Next-generation biomedical devices will undoubtedly include some of this stuff:
A dash of graphene can transform the stretchy goo known as Silly Putty into a pressure sensor able to monitor a human pulse or even track the dainty steps of a small spider.
The material, dubbed G-putty, could be developed into a device that continuously monitors blood pressure, its inventors hope.
The guys who made G-putty often rely on “household stuff” in their research. Indeed, as Nature’s Mark Peplow reports, in 2014, they made “graphene by blitzing graphite in a kitchen blender.”
Humankind has actually been working with nanomaterials for thousands of years, for industrial as well as artistic purposes.
But it took a visionary like Feynman to imagine super-small technology.
His acolytes are making advances in nanotechnology and nanomaterials that will enable interplanetary exploration, facilitate supercomputing, and ensure the longevity of our species.
Butterfly Sciences is a one-man company founded on the concept of using gene therapy to improve the lives of AIDS patients.
It’s the brainchild of microbiologist Brian Hanley.
Hanley is so committed to his research that last June, he had himself injected with a gene of his own design, funded with his own savings. And he did it without FDA approval.
The effort is the second case MIT Technology Review has documented of unregulated gene therapy, a risky undertaking that is being embraced by a few daring individuals seeking to develop anti-aging treatments. The gene Hanley added to his muscle cells would make his body produce more of a potent hormone — potentially increasing his strength, stamina, and life span.
His concepts have attracted little investor interest. But Hanley, 60, is determined to see if his approach is effective.
“I wanted to prove it, I wanted to do it for myself, and I wanted to make progress,” he says.
They say a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.
So what do they say about do-it-yourself gene therapy?
“I think it’s damn crazy,” says Bruce Smith, an Auburn University professor who works with dogs’ genes. “But that’s human nature, and it’s colliding with technology.”
Editorial Director, Wall Street Daily