Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Power of Serendipity - Learning About Nanotechnology

There is a three foot pile of papers, books, bookmarks and information goodness buried on my bed. (Hey, I found a wrapped cookie!) A clear sign it is time for a little serendipity. I plunge into the center and pull out...a Nanotechnology catalog.  Oh my.

At first glance yeah, it is a little intimidating. Handbook of Theoretical and Computational Nanotechnology. Bottom-up Nanofabrication and Doped Nanomaterials and Nanodevices. I'm reading the summaries and although the English language is being used I am having a hard time understanding any part of the text.  When in doubt, find a science or scientist blogger. 

We start our journey visiting Karen Venti, who is a science medical writer who gives an explanation about the term:

The basic definition of nanotechnology is anything related to the building of materials on a nanometer scale-a scale smaller than one millionth of a meter.

Nanotechnology is a highly interdisciplinary field encompassing elements of colloidal science, physics, chemistry and biology.

Tara C. Parket at Aetiology has a Nanotechnology Primer that will start the process of illumination.

Nanotechnology is a field defined solely by its size. By definition, it involves the manufacture and manipulation of materials at the atomic or molecular level--materials which are typically less than 100 nanometers in diameter. (For comparison, a human hair is roughly 50,000 nm thick, and a piece of paper 100,000 nm thick).

Ok, so I'm getting that a variety of science disciplines are working on materials and devices that can operate on a really small scale.  One of the places I checked out was Nano Werk. It goes into a more detail about what is the current state of the technology and practical applications.

But I'm a visual kinda of gal so it helps if I can see what folks are talking about.This is a video clip from First Science TV is about how NASA imagines a potential use of nanotechnology, with an explanation of the relationship between our natural cells as machines and how the nanodevices can help the body.

Ok, it is getting better. So know that I have an understanding of what nanotechnology. My next questions is "What In It For Me?" Because being a science fiction fan I know this could be a good thing or a very, very bad thing.

Now there are potentially wonderfully things that could be a benefit such as nano-surgical applications, pollution control, soil analysis or as Rhiannon Buck suggest "bones could be made stronger, muscles more powerful and hearing improved so that we could hear a vast range of frequencies."

Hmm. Jaime Sommers or the Borg?  Nope, I need more information. Over at the Women's Bioethics Blog there are a number of posts about the ethical concerns we need to be aware of if humans plan on making use of this technology. One of the concerns will be what will constitutes a human being?

Now learning a new term does not automatically make you cool. So here are some places you can check out to start building an understanding of some of the concepts and implications of this new nano-frontier.

Marcy Darnovsky at the Center for Genetics and Society Biopolitical Times blog gives a brief review of the book Body Shopping and poses interesting questions about the intersections of business, science and medicine.

Gregor Wolbring has a lot of articles and links to information concerning this topic. He also has a blog on Nanotechnology, Biology, Information and Cognition and other stuff.  Cruise through his post, some are high tech but others are accessible.

Finally, you should visit the Nanotechnology Project - in addition to having a Nanotechnology 101 section it looks at the potential effect on food, safety and the environment. Anyplace that has an article called the Twinkie Guide to Nanotechnology that includes videos is alright by me.

Where did that cookie go?

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  1. Nanotechnology is so fascinating exactly because it is so "out-of-this-world" small. This teacher connected her students with an expert

  2. Gena,
    thanks for highlighting my nano stuff
    Here is the compilation of all my writings
    After the columns academic and other article are listed. Some are not open access but i can send them upon request.
    Nano will impact many areas as does every step of miniaturization as they enable whole new set of products with different properties and scope.