Thursday, October 25, 2012


In my last post I discussed some of the significant advancements being made in 3D printing. Yet there is another technology that is being developed which may not even been visible at all: nanotech.

Nanotech is everywhere...if you consider some of the amazing machinery in nature and the human body as falling under that classification. Manmade nanotech, however, is making some major strides as of late. For starters, here are some interesting videos discussing the topic here, here, here, and here. Although I have disagreements with the videos in terms of the origin of nanotech in nature, you can generally see where things are headed.

Now, one particular technique for building nano-sized devices or objects is nano dip pen lithography. This involves moving atoms into place one by one and so far, it has been used to build some very basic devices, along with creating tiny signatures made at the atomic level. Due to the cost of the equipment, this may not be a feasable long-term method of building devices, but it is a starting point.

Other work being done at the nano level involves grinding things into ultrafine powder as well as developing coatings. Some peculiar properties emerge at this level, though. For example, gold changes color when broken down into smaller and smaller particles. At a certain point, it even becomes transparent. Silicon, too, changes in color from a charcoal-colored metal to red and even to blue when the particle size is continually reduced. Strange properties also develop with carbon (research carbon nanotubes to see what I mean). There are lots of implications to size reduction as well as newfound hope for older technology such as solar cell coatings.

Beyond coatings, solar cell improvements, and dip pen lithography, however, there lurks a potential development that is both fascinating and unsettling at the same time. Work is also being done in various labs and universities on molecular assemblers. These would represent an amazing miniaturization of their larger robotic counterparts, yet the implications might be drastically different for these "nanofactories".

A future nanofactory may use nanomachines (or molecular assemblers) to assemble other nanomachines. There may also come a day when a desktop-sized device will be developed that can encapsulate such functionality. I'll cover issues with replication (and self-replication) in a future post, but you can probably imagine what types of doors this kind of technology will open up...both good and bad. Another lurking danger in any new technology is the ever-present potential for bugs...especially in devices with extensive amounts of software code. In the coming days, I'll cover the implications for that, too.

P.S.: In prior posts, I've made mention of some interesting sites that feature nano-related news, most notably this one. Recently, I found another one to add to that list: azonano.

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