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By Popular Request: The Nano-Fad

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posted on Mar, 11 2006 @ 12:32 AM
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I want to know something: what is the current fascination with the prefix, the use, and the application of anything nano-? I hear this word tossed around quite a bit here on the forums and elsewhere. It seems like many universities are really starting to get into the swing of things by pumping up certain departments' research in the field of nano- (usually the chemistry, physics and chemical engineering departments) as are many publications on science within certain magazines and journals (Popular Science, Science) with the prefix nano- as a precurssor to an article or report.

I have a feeling that some people are looking at nano-solutions as the end all be all answer to every problem that exist, especially in biology concerning transportation. I have a hard time understanding why. Most of all I have a hard time understanding what nano- is. Common suffixes are -biology, -technology, -engineering, etc...

I cannot see a clear difference between some aspects of research in chemistry and physics and biology that existed well before the term came into use circa 1970 (from what I remember reading) and research which still exist that does not include the use of the nano- prefix.

Why say high-energy physics and not nano-high-energy physics or why say atomic physics and not nano-atomic physics? I have a feeling that the use of the prefix nano- had a specific application, and I am not sure what that was because I think somewhere between its inception and today, the prefix began to be attached to any research that a university/company deemed of interest to the public. IF a professor, say for example, was given a large government grant and a university wants the general public to be aware of his/her research for the sake of thinking that this isn't just another 'boring' experiment, why not slap the nano- label into a press release?

It is an easy way of attracting people to read certain articles, learn certain respect for what some researchers are doing, and most of all, try to win back the public with a feeling that science can be fun and can be cool, is not boring, amoral, immoral, unethical, but rather it is cutting edge because, well, it is nano-.




posted on Mar, 11 2006 @ 01:12 AM
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You raise interesting points, some of which I agree with. The original definition of Nanotechnology, as coined by K. Erik Drexler is this:

Heterogeneous molecular nanosystems, where each molecule in the nanosystem has a specific structure and plays a different role.

In recent years this term has become twisted to suit the purposes of companies wishing to attract venture funding, much like in the days when dot com suffix was attached to anything and everything. In many cases, the suffix was just that just a suffix which had nothing to do with what the company in question was actually doing.

Today the popular definition of Nanotechnology is this:

To manipulate matter at a scale below 100 nm in size.

By this definition, almost everything can be termed Nanotechnology. Microtech fabs, which etch features below 100 nm on a regular basis, can be termed as such, but we don't. We still consider that Microtechnology.

There are significant applications for manipulating matter at this scale, of which we have not even scratched the surface as of yet, but do the majority of "Nano" projects deserve this prefix? I don't think so.

There is a fad I agree, but this fad has already released some significant innovations into the market place. Not world changing innovations by far, but significant nonetheless.

Would you consider adhesive-less tape which mimics the way Gecko's stick to surfaces by engineering polymer hairs upon polymer hair upon polymer hairs reaching down to the scale of less then 100 nm, to take advantage of van der waals forces? I wouldn't. A better definition for a technological innovation such as this would be Biomemetics, the field of studying Biological organisms and applying what we learn from them to Engineering.

Would you consider a Buckyball or a Buckytube nanotechnology? I wouldn't. The only way I would consider it "True" nanotech would be if these particles were used in a molecular fabrication system, building products from the bottom up, molecule by molecule, atom by atom.

Is there a lot we can learn from studying molecules up close and personal? Of course there is, I'm very happy at the amount of funding and attention it is receiving.

What I'm not happy about is that if you're stated goal is to develop and build Nanobots or Nanofactories, those funding proposals are usually killed as soon as those words are read by the funders, whether they be government or private interests.

Now why should we be studying this extremely broad field, made possible by Atomic Microscopes? There are many reasons. I'll make a short list, of which I believe hold the most short term promise:

1. Maxing out Solar Cell efficiency
2. Creating lighter and stronger composites for a number of applications
2i. High efficiency vacuum filled aerostats for cargo and passengers
2ii. Lighter, Stronger building materials with built-in solar collectors
3. Superconducting nanowires, of which the late Richard Smalley was a rather active advocate, he was also one of the primary critics of Drexlers dream, dismissing them as fantasy and accusing him of scaring the children(OH WON'T SOMEONE PLEEEEAAASE THINK OF THE CHILDREN!)

As for wether this whole Technology is a fad, only time will tell. The only fad I agree with, is the fad of labelling everything, including the kitchen sink as Nano-enabled, of which I've been very critical of on investment forums, though I'm promptly ignored as people are making a buck and you can't stand in the way of that now can we.


I personally believe that once the "Gee-wizz" factor has worn off, then the real work will begin. It took the "-tronics" fad about a decade to wear off, the "Bio-" fad took seven years to wear off, the dot com took four to five years to wear off, and as for Nano, the fad could wear off after a stock bubble burst, of which it's not foregone conclusion.

We have lost sight of the true meaning of the prefix, though I suspect that once the speculative bubble bursts, we will start to go towards his main dream which WILL change the landscape.

Will it cure all of our woes in the world? Probably not. I am certain that it can solve a few of our woes though, like power generation, better recycling technologies, ultra efficient alt power generation, and finally the vaunted and feared Nanofactory.

[edit on 11-3-2006 by sardion2000]

[edit on 11-3-2006 by sardion2000]

[edit on 11-3-2006 by sardion2000]



posted on Mar, 11 2006 @ 01:59 AM
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In the words of one of my professors, (and this is almost a direct quote) 'putting nano- on the front of any word gurantees lots of research funding', especially around my university, where we have NINT under construction and a nanofabrication facility. (which I actually get to use for a course this term, and is where my current avatar came from)



posted on Mar, 11 2006 @ 08:13 PM
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To a good extent, I do agree with this, but not with everything.

First:



The original definition of Nanotechnology, as coined by K. Erik Drexler is this:


The term nanotechnology was actually coined by Norio Taniguchi in 1974 to describe machining with tolerances of less then a micron.

It is my belief that the buckyball and carbon nanotube, along with all nanomaterials should be considered nanotechnology and that nanotech is itself very broad.

Still I do agree that the prefix nano is way overused. Some companies that only use nanotechnology a little bit are throwing nano into their name. For example, U.S. Global Aerospace who started using nanofiber technology in cockpit doors, changed it’s name to U.S. Global Nanospace. So yes, everyone is trying to throw nano around to make themselves sound important. This will unfortunately, continue until nano has lost almost all meaning.

By the way, high-energy physics deals with things much smaller then a nanometer. Even the hydrogen atom is only one tenth of a nanometer.



posted on Mar, 11 2006 @ 08:32 PM
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I help proctor a course in Nanotechnology at a university, and I've also given a presentation on various research I've done in the field. The fascination with anything nano- is actually pretty simple, and an extremely common question. Physical and chemical properties change at the nano-scale, so basically we've discovered a whole other world of science.

Really, that's the simplest explanation, and probably the best. Basically, it's cool for everyone - from the professors I worked for to find all these neat new properties to the consumer at Best Buy who wants a new toy.



posted on Mar, 12 2006 @ 03:07 AM
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Originally posted by Lethys
To a good extent, I do agree with this, but not with everything.

First:



The original definition of Nanotechnology, as coined by K. Erik Drexler is this:


The term nanotechnology was actually coined by Norio Taniguchi in 1974 to describe machining with tolerances of less then a micron.


I didn't know that, first I've heard of the guy. Did he write any books on this subject?



posted on Mar, 13 2006 @ 03:40 PM
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my personal favorite in this trend was the lipstick that came out awhile ago that claimed to make your lipstick stay on better using nanoparticles... I saw that commercial and laughed for like 5 minutes straight. And then there's the ipod nano...

Like sardion I'm a bit vexxed about the general knee jerk reaction to nano factories and the like, but I hope the trend will eventually ease up.



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