Preface

During the past century, human life spans have almost doubled, and travel and communication happen with an ease and speed that would have been considered science fiction only a few generations ago. Remarkably, the pace of innovation is actually increasing over that of the past.

Science has now advanced to the point that those on the cutting edge of research work with individual atoms and molecules. This is the defining characteristic of the new metafield of nanotechnology, which encompasses a broad range of both academic research and industrial development. At this small scale, the familiar classical physics guideposts of magnetism and electricity are no longer dominant; the interactions of individual atoms and molecules take over. At this levelroughly 100 nanometers (a nanometer being a billionth of a meter, and a human hair being 50,000 nanometers wide) and smallerthe applicable laws of physics shift as Newtonian yields to quantum.

Nanotechnology holds the promise of advances that exceed those achieved in recent decades in computers and biotechnology. Its applications will have dramatic infrastructural impacts, such as building tremendously faster computers, constructing lighter aircraft, finding cancerous tumors still invisible to the human eye, or generating vast amounts of energy from highly efficient solar cells. Nanotechnology will manifest in innovations both large and small in diverse industries, but the real benefit will accumulate in small cascades over decades rather than in a sudden, engulfing wave of change. It is not the "Next Big Thing" but rather will be any number of "next large things". Nanotechnology may not yield a result as dramatic as Edison's lightbulb but rather numerous gains as pervasive as the integrated-circuit-controlled lightbulbs in the traffic lights that are ubiquitous in modern life.

Although the lightbulb breakthroughs will be few, there will be numerous benefits taken for granted, such as the advantages that the automated intelligence of traffic grids provide to major cities. This should not be a surprise, because nanotechnology is not an invention but rather a range of fields of study and applications, defined by size, that use tools, ideas, and intuitions available to innumerable scientific disciplines. Thus nanotechnology offers tremendous potential for several key reasons. Materials and processes at that size have unique properties not seen at larger scale, offer proportionately greater reactive surface area than their larger counterparts, and can be used in or with living organisms for medical applications. As a result, familiar materials can have completely different properties at the nanoscale.

For example, carbon atoms form both coal and diamonds, but with different molecular arrangements. Scientists now know that carbon molecules at the nanoscale can form cylindrical tubes, called carbon nanotubes, that are much stronger than steel and conduct electricity, neither of which is possible with the carbon found in coal or diamonds. Carbon nanotubes may one day provide key breakthroughs in medicine and electronics. Likewise, nanotechnology can provide breakthroughs in industrial uses. The electrical current produced in solar cells or batteries reflects the flow of electrons from one surface to another. Nanotechnology has already enabled the demonstration of a vastly increased surface area of electrodes that allows electrons to flow much more freely, along with corresponding improvements in battery performance. Safer, cheaper, and cleaner electricity and electrical storage would obviously have a dramatic impact on our society.

Another reason nanotechnology holds so much promise is that it enables solutions at the same size scale as biological organisms, such as the individual cells in our bodies. Engineered materials are possible, such as ultrasmall particles made in the exact size to perform like a "smart bomb" in delivering drugs in the blood stream. Other applications might detect cancer when it is only a few cells in size. Future convergence of nanotechnology and biotechnology may combine biological and man-made devices in a variety of applications, such as batteries for implanted heart pacemakers that draw electrical current from the wearer's glucose rather than from surgically implanted batteries.

Yet another important facet of nanotechnologyone that underpins both its promise and the challengesis that it embraces and attracts so many different disciplines that researchers and business leaders are working in, among them, chemistry, biology, materials science, physics, and computer science. Although each field has tremendously talented people, each also has its own somewhat unique training and terminology. Almost like the parable of the blind men anH fho olonhanf oarh nrnnn annrnarhoc fho mI11^ r I/aI \Afif h i inin i iq cHllc froininn anH

0 0

Post a comment