Saturday, March 3, 2012

Practical Nanotech

The other day, while surfing the internet at work (I was actually helping a student find sources; when doing so, I type in the first word that comes to my mind - or the second, if the first isn't appropriate. This just happened to be the first word, and is often my go-to example), I found this really neat web-page. It's called Nano & Me, and takes a look at the every day applications for nanotechnology. It's really cool. I've talked at length about nanotechnology before, but I've never broken it down into practical applications - which is what some people need in order to appreciate the full scale (pardon the pun) of nanotech. This website does a good job of doing just that; taking a look at the practical applications of nanotechnology in every day life. Below the fold are a few things that stand out to me from the website.


An interesting application is the use of nanoparticles which are added to diesel fuel for vehicles. The nanoparticles help the fuel burn better in the engine and the result is that you get more miles per gallon, and, because the fuel is burning more efficiently, there is less effluent coming out of the exhaust pipe. In addition the engine does not need servicing as often because the engine stays cleaner.
Nanomaterials are also increasingly being used to make cars lighter and stronger, so using less fuel and fewer metals.
Not only that, but the application of claytronics and programmable matter, and, more realistically, smart materials, for the bodies of cars. Cars can be produced as one body made of the smart materials; a single electrical shock is all it takes to make a car that had been crunched up like an accordion expand back and pop back into the shape it was before the accident. Smart materials in the tires allow for tires that bend and mold to fit the road, without loosing speed. And that's before we get into the applications of a built in AR display on windshield.

The whole section on textiles is interesting. Imagine - clothing that you never have to wash. That's stain resistant and never gets wet. This is possible with nanotechnology; the lotus coating on clothing and even on certain objects (for instance, the exterior of electronic devices) would make the object water repellent. Using silver nanoparticles as anti-bacterial coating for clothing makes it even more impressive. If you were to put smart materials in with the clothes, or make the clothes out of programmable matter, one set of clothing can represent any number of possible fashions, and you never have to wash it, never have to worry about it getting wet, and never have to worry about it tearing or buying a new pair of clothing when it goes out of style, or for different occasions.

Healing nano

Nanotechnologies may have the greatest impact in the medical and healthcare fields. There are some nano-enabled uses at the moment, with others not so far away. However many of the much talked about applications - creating artificial body parts or remotely diagnosing and delivering drugs may be a long way off, or may not even be possible.
The most notable changes will come from improvements in diagnosing illnesses more easily and treating them by better targeting of drugs. It will also make existing medical applications much cheaper and easier to use in different settings like GP surgeries and homes
Nanotechnology has a lot of potential in the medical field. In fact, biomedicine is where the future is going to be at; the era of cyberpunk man/machine interfaces is gone. Cyborgs will be an interesting curiosity of fiction; biotechnoloogy, cloning, pharming, pharmaceuticals - this is where the future is at. And nanotechnology will have a huge impact on how we move in leaps and bounds in this direction.

Nano nosh

There is lots of speculation about how nano could help enhance foods, from futuristic ideas about foods that change to respond to your nutritional needs or taste preferences - to more down to earth applications - such as better ways to add flavours, create textures or enhance nutritional benefits.
At the moment, though we can't be certain, there seems to be very little use of nano in food in the UK, though many companies, large and small, are researching what it could do. The known uses are confined to wrapping nutritional ingredients into nano-sized parcels for better absorption in food or mineral supplements, though nano is likely to be used more widely in packaging.
This is exciting stuff. However, this stands out to me:
Companies don't talk much about their research because they don't want their competitors to know and because they are concerned about a negative consumer reaction to the idea of nano
in food.
 This reminds me of the mess decrying GM crops and food. First, if you have a negative reaction due to the existence of nanotechnology in food, you need to step back and slow down. Put down the Romanticism, and join us here in reality for a few seconds. Certain types of "natural" foods are both genetically modified and contain nanoparticles that occur "in nature." For instance, milk is an example of "natural" nanotechnology. It's nanoparticles suspended in water. Ricotta cheese is another example that their page gives; it doesn't get that special texture "naturally." Second, genetic modification amounts to us selecting the ideal genes that we want in a plant and then breeding the plant with those genes. You have a problem with that? Too bad, we've been doing that for thousands of years. In fact, agriculture as we know it would not exist without genetic modification - over the centuries we've taken and selected the best and healthiest elements from each crop and breed that. The end result being the "natural" crops that a lot of lefties like to eat today. There is nothing "natural" about your "natural" food. It's no different from the genetic engineering that we use today, with the exception of the fact that "genetic modification" is thrown around as a scare phrase - brought to you by the same crowd who claims the thermosil in vaccinations causes autism. Everything we do to crops is stuff that evolution can do - evolution is natural. The only thing different is that we've taken evolution and turned it into a participation sport.

Furthermore, as the climate changes due to the global warming we aren't stopping, growing seasons will be harder and harder to predict. If we even want to pretend that we'll continue to function as a species long, we'll need food crops that can grow outside their normal seasons and climates. The only way to do that is with GM crops.


So anyway, that's just a little bit about this site. It's a cool site - make sure to check it out. I think that the practical applications of nanotechnology need to be made known; once people realize what nanotechnology can do for them, and what kind of future they can have with nanotech permeating every aspect of their lives, they'll be more receptive to it.

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