What Is Nanotechnology?

Nanotechnology is the science and engineering of the very small—molecular and atomic-scale materials and machine assembly. The name comes from the prefix nano-, meaning one-billionth, and refers to the scale of the objects: one billionth of a meter. Nanotechnology holds huge promise for those who can make it work (and make the economics work), because the ability to control activities and objects at this scale offers tremendous flexibility. An analogy is the difference between moving tennis balls with a bulldozer, or arranging them by hand, one at a time. Nanotechnology promises a by-hand manipulation of the smallest building blocks of materials.

One aspect of nanotechnology development is based on the capabilities of microscopic-sized machines. Proposed medical applications include cell-sized robots operating within the body to remove blockages in the heart, repair degnerative damage to joints, or deliver cancer drugs with cell-by-cell precision. At present this field exists only as pure research with the greatest achievements being simple gear sets and electric motors.

Another aspect of nanotechnology involves the study and engineering of materials themselves. Examples of this are the “bucky-balls” and “bucky-tubes”—configurations of carbon atoms into ball and tube shapes respectively. Commercial applications of these may make use of their electrical properties, or tremendous tensile strength. Another example might be the creation of custom “designer drugs,” whose physical characteristics are carefully shaped to bond only with certain types of cells.

Sensable Technologies Phantom

The Phantom, from Sensable Technologies, is a device that uses the sense of touch for input or output from a computer. Developed by Thomas Massie and Dr. Kenneth Salisbury at MIT in 1993, the Phantom allows users to experience and manipulate 3D data physically, by moving their hand. The Sensable website describes touch as the only “fully duplex” sense, because a person can send and receive information by touch at the same time. As the user manipulates the data using the articulated arm of the Phantom, they receive feedback in the form of resistance to certain movements. When used with an SPM as part of the NanoManipulator, the user will be able to “feel” the object under study.

More information:

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