What’s the smallest thing you can imagine? Maybe it’s a cell, a bacteria, or an atom. Maybe even something as small as quarks come to mind. In any event, can you imagine building stuff with materials the size of cells, bacterias, and atoms – things that are so small they can barely be seen? That’s exactly what nanotechnology is all about: Construction work on a tiny tiny scale.
How tiny is tiny? Tiny in this case means one billion times smaller than what we’re used to. To give you an idea of the scale that nanotechnology works on, one of the hairs on your head is approximately 100.000 nanometers wide. That’s how tiny you need to think.
But how big an impact can things that small have? Well, decide for yourself. Here are a couple of examples of how nanotech is being used today:
- Sunscreen: Two nanoparticles, titanium dioxide, and zinc oxide have been added to most sunscreens because they’re highly effective at blocking UV radiation, while still feeling light on the skin.
- Clothing & furniture: Nanoparticles of Silica are able to repel water and other liquids. Our Chief Navigator Simon only wears t-shirts with such nanoparticles weaved into the fabric. Similarly, nanoparticles can be used to make furniture less flammable.
- Tennis equipment: Nanotechnology is used in a lot of sports equipment, among others tennis. Without nanotechnology, tennis balls wouldn’t bounce so long and tennis rackets wouldn’t be so strong.
- Energy: Nanotechnology is improving the efficiency of energy production, be it oil, solar, wind, batteries, etc.
All our electronic devices are only made possible because of nanotechnology, and even the COVID-vaccine was developed using nanotechnology. It’s literally everywhere.
How Nanotechnology Works
The building blocks of nanotechnology are nanoparticles. A nanoparticle is basically any kind of material that’s between 1 and 100 nanometers, meaning that your hair definitely isn’t a nanoparticle. It’s way too big.
Most of the nanoparticles we’re currently using commercially are man-made in order for them to possess the qualities we need. This takes place through gas condensation, radiation, chemistry, or mechanical manipulation.
These particles may then be used in organic chemistry, molecular biology, semiconductor physics, energy storage, engineering, and many other fields. This broad application range makes it useful for a similarly broad range of fields such as medicine, electronics, robotics, etc. Nanotechnology has a huge potential to improve medicine, make electronic devices cheaper, and bring robots to a whole new level. Maybe nanomedicine will provide us with a cure for cancer. Maybe nanotechnology will pave the way towards flying cars. Maybe Iron Man will soon walk our streets. It’s all very possible.
However, there are also challenges connect with nanotechnology. Because nanoparticles are so small, they’re able to move between cell membranes, meaning they can go into our bloodstream and reach our organs. What effects that might have on our health, is not yet completely clear. The same goes for the effect on the environment. Nanotechnology is still so new that we don’t know the long term impact it will have on our world.
How You Can Use Nanotechnology
Nanotechnology is cool and has a huge potential, but maybe you’re thinking: “Yeah, cool, but I have no clue how to produce nanoparticles and build nanorobots! I would need to become an expert in that field to use it for my project!” On the one hand, yes, but on the other hand, no, definitely not!
Sure, you will need a nano expert in order to make your ideas come true, but that doesn’t mean that you cannot dream, imagine, and invent! Like we wrote in a previous blogpost, oftentimes it’s actually the non-experts who have the best ideas. Instead of thinking about what’s possible, consider what would help you solve your problem – be it magnetic wood, bendable stone, or self-assembling robots. Nanotechnology makes it all possible. But the first step towards turning those crazy ideas into reality is getting the idea.
Simply start with the Why and the What. The How will uncover itself along the way.
“Nanotechnology is an idea that most people simply didn’t believe.” – Ralph Merkle