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Saturday, November 10, 2007


The Rise of Nanotech

If you have heard about nanotechnology at all, you may be aware of its science-fiction-sounding hype. Proponents picture a future in which tiny bots would magically repair tissue to prolong our life span. On the dark side is the disturbing vision of "gray goo," where self-replicating nanodevices destroy the planet. The reality of the burgeoning field of nanotech, however, is hardly less startling in its transformative potential. Some have proclaimed it "the next industrial revolution."

"Nanotechnology" broadly applies to control of materials and components only a few billionths of a meter in size. Already manufacturers sell several hundred products that use nanotech, mainly skin lotions. Next up are advances in biotechnology and electronics-and a merging of the two.

Consider, for instance, molecular building blocks called bis-amino acids, which chemists string together into protein-like structures. Applications include medicines, enzymes for catalyzing reactions, sensors, nanoscale valves and computer storage devices. Other researchers are using natural molecular machines to process information: they receive input from other biological molecules and output a tangible result, such as a signal or a therapeutic drug.

Nanoscience advances are pushing traditional electronics in new directions as well. George Gruner describes applications that encompass sensors, solar cells, electronic paper and bendable touch screens. Imagine a morning "paper" with headlines that change as news breaks.

Or how about an invisibility cloak? Harry A. Atwater explains how optical signals squeeze through minuscule wires, producing so-called plasmons. Plasmonic circuits could help to move lots of data and improve the resolution of microscopes, the efficiency of light-emitting diodes, and the sensitivity of detectors. Such materials could alter the electromagnetic field around an object to such an extent that it would become invisible. The nanoregime offers enormous promise indeed.

Plenty of Room Indeed
There is plenty of room for practical innovation at the nanoscale. But first, scientists have to understand the unique physics that governs matter there

Nanotechnology and the Double Helix
DNA is more than just the secret of life-it is also a versatile component for making nanoscopic structures and devices

Bringing DNA Computers to Life by Ehud Shapiro and Yaakov Benenson
Tapping the computing power of biological
molecules gives rise to tiny machines that can speak directly to living cells

Carbon Nanonets Spark New Electronics by George Gruner
Random networks of tiny carbon tubes could make possible low-cost, flexible devices such as "electronic paper" and printable solar cells

Less Is More in Medicine by A. Paul Alivisatos
Sophisticated forms of nanotechnology will find some of their first real-world applications in ­biomedical research, disease diagnosis and, ­possibly, therapy




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