By Dick Pelletier
Arthur C. Clarke once said: “Any sufficiently advanced
technology is virtually indistinguishable from magic.” Enter
mankind’s newest plunge into the future – nanotechnology.
One day soon, a small Star Trek-like replicator called a
“nanofactory” will sit on your kitchen counter and let you order up
any product you want – plasma TV, clothes, an appliance, or whatever your
dreams desire – at little or no cost.
This wild technology sounds like science fiction, but its not.
According to AI entrepreneur Ray Kurzweil and nanotech author Eric
Drexler, this nanofactory will arrive by the 3rd decade of this
century – 2020-2030.
Here’s how nanotech replicators would work: microscopic-size
machines collect raw atoms from supplied chemicals, or from
something as inexpensive as seawater, and enable those atoms to
grow or “morph” into the final product: a sweater, refrigerator,
health medicine, or even a duplicate nanofactory.
Key technologies of the past half-century – transistors,
semiconductors, and genetic engineering – all focused on reducing
size, materials and costs, while increasing power and efficiency.
We now stand poised to continue this trend into a revolution that
offers the potential to rebuild the entire physical world – our
bodies and brains included – one atom at a time.
The National Institutes of Health states that someday implanted
nanotech materials will actually become part of the body – able to
search out and destroy cancer cells before they develop into a
tumor, or precisely direct drugs to heal damaged tissues – and when
no longer needed, dissolve and be absorbed or excreted. (cont.)
By Dick Pelletier
Neurons made from exotic nanomaterials could one day enable
humans to survive even the most horrendous accidents, and as a
bonus, provide some amazing new abilities.
Nano-engineer John Burch, co-designer of the nanofactory
video, “Productive Nanosystems: from Molecules to Superproducts,”
believes that by as early as the 2030s, we could be replacing our
brain cells with non-biological nanotech materials that process
thoughts faster, and is nearly indestructible.
“The new brain would include an exact copy of our memories and
personality that existed before we converted”, Burch says, “but it
would run millions of times faster and would increase our memory a
thousand fold. In addition, this futuristic brain will allow us to
control the speed of our thoughts; we could jump from 100
milliseconds, the response time for biological cells, to 50
nanoseconds – 20 million times faster”.
Creating thoughts at this speed would, in our mind at least,
slow the world down by a factor of 20 million. Our perception would
speed up, but physics limits how fast we can move, so to us, the
world would seem to slow as our brain ran faster. Think of what
this means. In an emergency, we would have time to think and plan.
Events that seem like hours to us would actually be happening in a
split second. (cont.)
At the recent Low-Volume Manufacturers Association
conference, Boris Fritz, a senior engineer technical specialist at
Grumman, said he expects nanotechnology in our lifetime to
enable small devices called respirocytes
that permit us to hold our breath for up to 4 hours.
“What you do is replace about 10% of your blood with these
respirocytes and then you would have literally 4 hours where you
can hold your breath,” lays out Fritz, “So if you had a problem
with your heart stopping you could just leisurely call the hospital
and tell them ‘Well, i’ve had a heart attack, my heart is
Or another option, as Fritz points out, is that “you could go
scuba diving without any gear.”
Check out the full Fritz interview by Dean Rotbart, Director of
the Low-Volume Manufacturers Association, here. (Would have
embedded the vid, but the youtube code is buggy.) (cont.)
By Dick Pelletier
From assembling cells one-by-one into artificial tissues to
creating micro-robots that swim through arteries and digestive
systems, the magic of nanotech has finally arrived. A major theme
of today’s nano-science focuses on strengthening human biology. In
fact, of the eight technology advances listed below, seven involve
systems that improve health:
1. Nanochips arrange cells to create artificial tissues. Harvard
professor Robert Westervelt’s nanochips can move cells around to
form new artificial tissues, which could be used to test efficacy
of various drugs. This system could be in use by 2010.
2. Nanowires simulate artificial synapses. Harvard researcher
Charles Lieber and his team linked silicon nanowires with axons and
dendrites of live mammalian neurons, creating artificial synapses
between the two. This technology paves the way for powerful neural
prosthetics, and opens the door for hybrid nanoelectronic and
biological information processing. Animal trials are already
3. Neural data cable connects brains with computers. University
of Pennsylvania researcher Doug Smith created a cable made from
stretched nerve cells that can connect machines to the human
nervous system, which could enable thought control over appliances
by as early as 2012.
4. Nanoparticles destroy tumors. Burnham Institute’s Dr. Erkki
Ruoslahti, in a joint effort with UC Santa Barbara, fashioned
nanoparticles that seek out and kill cancer cells by cutting off
their oxygen and nutrient supply. These nano-wonders can also
deliver drugs to a specific area without affecting healthy cells.
Human trials expected soon.
5. Micro-robots swim like bacterium through arteries. James
Friend, Senior Lecturer at Australia’s Monash University and his
team believe that by 2009 they can produce micro-robots that can
swim through human arteries and digestive systems. These ‘bots will
transmit images and deliver microscopic payloads to parts of the
body that are beyond the reach of existing technologies.
By Jack Uldrich
Cross-posted from www.jumpthecurve.net
This morning as my daughter was leaving for school she asked if
she could watch the “fat, chunky” movie this weekend. I gave her a
perplexed look and replied that I’d never heard of it. I probed a
little further and although it took me a few moments to determine
what she was talking about, I eventually understood that she wanted
to know if she could watch a VHS-format
This incident, along with another this past weekend where she
gazed unknowingly at a record player that was for sale at a garage
sale, has gotten me to thinking about what else might seem “fat and
chunky” to her in the future.
Already televisions, phones and iPods are impressively thin and
are likely to grow more so in the future. Alas, it won’t stop
A few months back, I wrote about solar energy’s
long-term potential and one reason I’m so optimistic about its
potential is that I believe thin-film photovoltaics are only going
to grow more efficient and cost-effective over time. Among other
things this implies that today’s bulky silicon solar cells are
likely to fade away.
The field of nanotechnology is also leading to thinner and more
effective materials. Therefore, walls made out of aerogels; car
panels constructed of new nanocomposites; and automobile batteries
(which utilize various nanomaterials) should also become thinner.
As will lights, which will take advantage of advances in organic
light emitting diodes. (cont.)
By Dick Pelletier
At the First Conference on Advanced Nanotechnology held in Washington DC, researchers discussed the possibilities expected of this new wonder science, including glittering visions of abundance and long, healthy life spans.
Within 20 years, a small Star Trek-like replicator called a “nanofactory” could sit on your kitchen counter and let you order up any product you want – food, clothing, appliances, or whatever your dreams desire – at little or no cost.
Nanofactories work by collecting atoms from something as inexpensive as dirt or seawater, and using software downloaded from the Internet, directs those atoms to “grow” into the final product. A nanofactory can even “grow” another nanofactory.
This wild technology sounds like science fiction, but its not. Foresight Institute sociologist Bryan Bruns said nanotech will provide solutions for some 2.7 billion people now living on less than $2 per day, and eliminate poverty worldwide.
Bruns envisions a “2025 Whole Earth Catalog” which would offer economic water filtration systems that purify 100,000 gallons of water a day; inexpensive solar roofing panels that come in rolls like Saran Wrap; powerful inexpensive computers that fit inside eyeglass frames; and suitcase-size nanoclinics with a full range of diagnostics and treatments.
“Turn trash into treasure”, could become the slogan of the 2020s. Nanorefineries will break down unwanted consumer items, sewage sludge, and other waste materials, and re-build them into food, clothing, or household items.
Institute for Molecular Manufacturing’s Robert Freitas added, “not only will nanotech provide us with a lot of cool stuff and eliminate global poverty; it will also help us live a really long time”. Freitas predicted by 2015, nanoproducts will diagnose illnesses and destroy cancer cells – and by mid-2020s, tiny cell-repair mechanisms will roam through our bodies keeping us strong, youthful, and forever healthy.
Bo Albinsson at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden, has figured out a way to use DNA as a nano fiber optic cable. They accomplish this by combining DNA strands with a chromophore called YO which has a strong attraction to DNA molecules. By wedging itself into areas of DNA, a 3nm diameter fiber optic cable is born (these fibers are self-assembling).
Fiber optic cables have become more commonplace in the world and are expected to take an even bigger step into the solar energy business by improving photo voltaic cells. Optical computers could also benefit greatly from photon-specific nanowires.
via New Scientist
Image: Diego Cantalapiedra (Flickr,CC-Attribution)
While you were pounding a few beers back last night, a Korean company unleashed a product into the world that may give the iPod Nano a run for its money. Dubbed the Mintpass, this little guy (only the size of your palm and weighing only 3.2 ounces) has Wi-Fi capabilities, plays music, can chat, blog, function as a post-it and even surf the internet. Did I mention it has a 1.3M camera? Or a speaker and microphone? How about video capability and 4GB of space (on top of an 8GB microSD slot). Think of it as a Nano on steroids. Demo video here.
Will we be seeing it anytime soon?
I wrote a few days ago about GE Labs creating a surface so hydrophobic that water could literally bounce off it, but Swiss researchers at the University of Zurich have gone ahead and done it with polyester fabric. By coating polyester fibers with millions of tiny silicone filaments, the fabric is made so hydrophobic that you could literally put your jacket into a bucket of water, let it sit for two weeks, pull it out and it would be dry as a bone.
How did they accomplish this?
Researchers managed to create this amazing fabric through the use of silicone nanofilaments which are very highly chemically hydrophobic. “The spiky structure of the 40-nanometre- wide filaments strengthens that effect, to create a coating that prevents water droplets from soaking through the coating to the polyester fibres underneath.” Lead researcher Stefan Seeger went on to explain it was like a “like a fakir sitting on a bed of nails.” Took me a second to figure out exactly he meant by that but luckily I read a lot of Tintin when I was a kid and it finally paid off. Applying the coating is easy — a silicone gas is released which condenses onto the fibers of the fabric.
How could this be useful?
If you’re worried how all that implantable technology you’ll have in your body is going to power itself, the answer may lie with Georgia Tech. “Georgia Tech researchers used zinc oxide wires that scratch against an electrode to generate a current, clearly showing potential for use within the constantly moving body.” The zinc wires rubbing had previously caused serious wear and tear in former experiments (not to mention the fact that zinc dissolves in water aka your body) so the team developed a more “robust” version of the device with added packaging film to protect the zinc wires.
Although the size in the photo is quite large, they believe it will be easy to scale the wires down to the much smaller size of three to five microns in diameter and 300 microns in length (the dot at the end of this period is about 615 microns wide). The only thing they’re waiting for is for production to begin and possibly some hefty investments I’m sure.
The development of body-powered energy devices has been on fire this last year. It seems that the future of devices are in the human body itself. Heat and movement can all be converted to energy to power all the little gadgets we get into our hands, from cellphones to body monitors. Having an implantable power generator makes the most sense in that batteries wouldn’t have to be replaced, and at least maintenance of such devices would be at a minimum.
How far are we from implantable self-powered devices? Some would say we’re almost there and I’d have to agree. The next few years may see implementation, maybe two years before we start seeing it in the consumer world.
Check out more on this device over at the Energy Roadmap
Researchers at the University of Illinois are working on developing a synthetic polymer which would hopefully self-heal scratches and cracks on items that get constant human and environmental exposure. "Applications range from automotive paints and marine varnishes to the thick, rubbery coatings on patio furniture and park benches." In other words, when someone dings your car door it can be good as new in just a few minutes or hours depending on the weather.
How does it work?
The self healing polymers are made up of two components: a catalyst and a healing agent. These chemicals are stuffed into small spheres about 100 microns in diameter and put onto the surface of an object. When scratched, the small spheres break open and mix, forming a healing agent that repair the surface. In tests with a steel beam where a scratch was delivered by a razor blade, the steel coated with the polymer was found to be fine while the one without rusted.
Self-healing products of course have a vast array of possibilities that are useful. Anything metal rusts, wood gets scratched or chipped, and hard drives can rack up some serious wear and tear if you're not careful. Self-healing coatings on products could extend the life of your goods for years longer than they should have lived. Combined with a superhydrophobic surface, our gadgets will look years from now just as good as the day you bought them.
Image: re-ality (Flickr, CC-Attribution)
Human beings have mastered the brute-force era of ‘energy by engineering’ where we’ve pulled stored energy from the Earth locked up as coal, oil and natural gas. But we are just beginning to achieve a more Zen-like ability to manipulate molecules that we harness and store ourselves.
Energy is about the interaction of molecules. And the way human beings can create cleaner energy interactions is by designing materials at the nanoscale to achieve unprecedented performance. Surface area is a key piece to this puzzle.
One Gram = One Football Field = How many molecules?
Now, imagine holding a material in your hand that was made up of tiny nano-sized ‘cages’ that could hold gas molecules like hydrogen and carbon. Now imagine a gram of this material having the surface area of a football field. How many hydrogen or carbon molecules could you fit in that space? We don't yet know what practical storage systems might yield. This is a big question for energy researchers.
A research team led by University of Michigan’s Adam Matzger has created a novel nanoporous material known as UMCM-2 (University of Michigan Crystalline Material-2) that could claim the world record for surface area with more than 5,000 square meters per gram.
"Surface area is an important, intrinsic property that can affect the behavior of materials in processes ranging from the activity of catalysts to water detoxification to purification of hydrocarbons," Matzger said. That means we can design high surface area materials to scrub carbon leaving cleaner hydrogen bonds, or desalinate water using less energy.
Until recently the threshold for surface area was 3,000 square meters per gram. Then in 2004, a U-M team that included Matzger reported development of a material known as MOF-177 (metal-organic frameworks) that has the surface area of a football field.
"Pushing beyond that point has been difficult," Matzger said, but apparently not impossible using a new method of coordination copolymerization. If it's hard to get your head around, just think: Building Legos wth Molecules! That's a Big Idea!
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