We use cookies to track usage and preferences. See Cookie Policy
Pocketmags Digital Magazines
Pocketmags Digital Magazines
   You are currently viewing the Canada version of the site.
Would you like to switch to your local site?
Digital Subscriptions >  Latest Articles > The Technology that Changes Everything

The Technology that Changes Everything
The Global Intelligence

The Technology that Changes Everything

Posted May 12, 2015   |   1249 views   |   General Interest   |   Comments (0) It’s not a question of ‘if’ nanotechnology will shake the world, but ‘by how much’.

Held aloft by an electric field, an infinitesimally-sized piece of gold begins to vibrate. The gold particle is so tiny that it is swaying in the sound given off by nearby bacteria. Researchers at Munich’s Ludwig Maximilians University unveiled their invention earlier this year of a microphone so sensitive that it can distinguish between nearly identical strains of bacteria by the vibrations they make. This “nano-ear” is capable of picking up sounds over a million times fainter than the human ear can.

Nanotechnology is innovating almost every field of science and technology. From the detection and prevention of infectious diseases to the collection of solar energy, the implications of working with particles on the nanoscale are wide reaching. The applications of nano developments will revolutionize many areas of society with new technologies as well as with cost-effective replacements of old ones, and both types of advances will have implications around the globe. There is reason to be both hopeful and cautious of what this new level of innovation can accomplish for both the wealthiest and most impoverished nations on the globe.

The all-encompassing field of nanotechnology will soon play an invisible role in every aspect of society. Nanotechnology is a catch-all term for any form of innovation that comes out of the specific manipulation of particles on the nanoscale. A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter, and it is the scale on which atoms and molecules are measured. Comparatively, if human beings were only a nanometer tall, planet Earth would be merely 7.5 millimeters wide.

A ‘nanoparticle’ is any particle that is best measured in nanometers. Nanoparticles are of a size that is roughly the length a fingernail grows in the time it takes to read this sentence. Every atom and molecule is a nanoparticle, and thus the nanoscale exists naturally in the world. Nanotechnology is any technology that is developed as a result of meticulously working with specific atoms and molecules.

To start with, this manipulation allows for smaller technology. The public imagination immediately leaps to such proposed inventions as ‘nanobots’ iniature machines that could, for instance, autonomously conduct medical procedures within the human body. Nanotechnology, however, is not only the development of microscopic computers that function much as their larger counterparts. There is something unique in the properties of particles that exist on the nanoscale. The Journal of Nanotechnology Online describes how “when dealing with matter below approximately 50 nanometers, the laws of quantum physics supersede those of traditional physics”. Nanoparticles may have a different “conductivity, elasticity, reactivity, strength, color, and tolerance to temperature and pressure” than the same material on a larger scale. Taking advantage of these differences allows for brand new innovations which have no precedence in technology of a traditional scale.
Nanotechnology got fully underway after the 1981 invention of the scanning tunneling microscope, which is an instrument that images surfaces at the atomic level. Beyond simply depicting nanoparticles up close, however, scientists discovered that they could use the microscope to actually touch individual atoms and carefully move them around.

Nanotechnology sprung out of such intentional arrangements of atoms and molecules. Those responsible, Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer, were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1986 for their achievement. Scientists became much better able to observe and manipulate interactions between atoms, and so they began to develop new technologies as a result of both better understanding certain reactions and intentionally manipulating such small particles.

The Computer of a Lifetime
Stepping away from the concept of microscopic machines, one invention in particular illustrates how diverse the use of nanotechnology can be. Central Japan International Airport has nearly 15,000 panes of glass on one face of the building. They are kept clean using a nano invention. Titanium Dioxide clusters less than 10 nanometers in diameter coat the windows. They are invisible to the human eye, but when excited by the sun’s UV rays, this hotocatalytic coating breaks down dirt clinging to the window, allowing it to float away on a gentle breeze.

One of the earliest and greatest discoveries of nanotechnology is the carbon nanotube. Carbon nanotubes are single molecules of carbon atoms bonded together in the shape of a tube. The walls of the tube are made up of a hexagonal lattice of carbon atoms. The lattice wraps in on itself to form the hollow tubes that can be many million times longer than they are wide. Collected in multitude, carbon nanotubes could look like nothing more than a fine, black powder to the human eye. Their uses, however, are many.

Foremost, carbon nanotubes are the strongest material ever discovered in terms of tensile strength and elasticity, far surpassing the capabilities of steel for some uses. But their unique, hollow nature makes them not nearly as strong under compression or bending stress. For the right uses, however, carbon nanotubes can maintain the same strength as other materials at a drastically reduced weight. Already nanotubing is being used in high-performance sports equipment such as tennis rackets and bicycle frames. The number of applications is growing, including possible uses in light-weight structures. Hypothetical uses proposed by some scientists include cables that attach space stations to our planet’s surface to guide independently-propelled elevators directly to the satellites.
Carbon nanotubes also have very unique conductive properties. According to the Journal of Nanoparticle Research, carbon nanotubes are only about as conductive of thermal energy across their width as soil. Along their length, however, they are nearly ten times as conductive of thermal energy as copper. When it comes to electrical current running along its length, carbon nanotubes can theoretically reach an electric current density up to 1,000 times greater than that of copper.

This has significant implications for both decreasing the size and increasing the processing power of computers of the future. A carbon lattice called graphene that is similar to that in nanotubes is currently being tested by researchers at IBM’s T.J. Watson Research Center in the United States as a potential replacement for conventional silicon in computer microchips. While silicon conductors have a significantly larger limit of how close they can be placed next to each other before interference occurs, graphene is the next step in shrinking computer processors as its conductors can be packed much more densely together. Nanotechnology is creating a very plausible method to fit the processing power of today’s computers into dramatically smaller apparatuses. Such computers could be worn as glasses, an ear piece, or even internally attached directly to a user’s brain using other nano developments that allow prosthesis to better connect with nerve fibers.

Computers developed with nanotechnology can even go a step further, however. Professor Jim Gimzewski of UCLA is currently collaborating with Japanese physicist Dr. Masakazu Aono to create a “neuromorphic computer”. On the nanoscale, the atoms in silver molecules protrude slightly when a current is passed through them. This discovery was initially investigated as a form of computer “on-off ”, or binary, switch as the protrusion can create a conductive bridge between nearby silver molecule chains. The benefit was first thought to be only how small the technology allowed such binary switches to be manufactured.

Gimzewski, however, saw another use. The silver atoms remained in their configuration for a short time after the current had finished flowing. This reminded Gimzewski of how the human brain creates memories by establishing connections through which electrons can flow. By using a configuration of silver atoms that is reminiscent of the tangled web of brain synapses, Gimzewski seeks to model a computer off the human brain. The research is in its infancy now, but rather than being hard-coded
with processes, such a computer could learn through repetition much the way a developing human brain does. Through nanotechnology, the possibility exists for an artificial intelligence that could be taught rather than programmed to think.

Read the full article for FREE in the sample issue of The Global Intelligence magazine at pocketmags.com today: http://bit.ly/1F0s3DG

For more great articles like this get the Free Preview Issue issue of The Global Intelligence below or subscribe and save.

Single Issue - Spring 2017 Replica Edition included
Or 849 points
Annual Digital Subscription
Only $ 7.00 per issue
Or 2799 points

View Issues

About The Global Intelligence

A world affairs magazine with purpose, The Global Intelligence is filled with timely insight and forward-looking analysis into issues that are central to global and human security.

More great content like this...

For more great articles like this subscribe to The Global Intelligence today.

Most read articles this month

Christmas Gifts for Her

Christmas Gifts for Her

Stuck for gift ideas for the lovely lady in your life? The Pocketmags team have pooled all their best ideas for gifts for her this Christmas. Get ready to earn some serious brownie points! More...
Christmas Gifts for Him

Christmas Gifts for Him

Why are men so hard to buy for?! If you're looking for gift ideas for the deserving gent in your life, look no further; the Pocketmags team have found some amazing gifts for him this Christmas. Boring socks begone! More...


Nashville songwriter Mark Cawley shares some tactics for reviving those elusive creative juices when you’ve lost the flow More...
3 Free Reads for the New Year

3 Free Reads for the New Year

Spend all your money in December? Us too. We’ve pulled together our 3 favourite free reads available for you on Pocketmags. Everyone loves a free read! More...
Great British Food's Pomegranate & Chocolate Cake

Great British Food's Pomegranate & Chocolate Cake

If you visit Morocco in autumn you will notice fresh pomegranates wherever you go. The beautiful seeds are eaten after a meal, squeezed for a refreshing drink, or scattered, jewel like, over sweet and savoury dishes. This fantastic cake uses tangy pomegranate molasses in the base and the vibrant ruby red seeds are scattered over the top to add a pop of colour and refreshing bite. More...
How I got  published

How I got published

The author’s debut was actually her sixth novel, she tells Dolores Gordon-Smith More...
Christmas Gifts for Kids

Christmas Gifts for Kids

Treat the smallest (and loudest) members of the family to something fun this festive season! We've rounded up our favourite gifts for kids to help you (oops, we mean Santa) out - just call us the Pocketmags elves! More...
News from the world of the piano

News from the world of the piano

Argerich and Babayan in Cleveland More...
Christmas Gifts for Everyone

Christmas Gifts for Everyone

Here at Pocketmags we're all about going digital, but we know our relatives might not always feel the same. Why not treat someone special to a print subscription from our sister site magazine.co.uk? Buy 3 Christmas gift subscriptions and you'll get £15 off at checkout. That's Christmas sorted! Here are our favourites to pick up and flick through all year round... More...
Christmas Gifts for Geeks

Christmas Gifts for Geeks

Don't get pwned this Christmas - we've got a list of the greatest gifts around for the geekiest member of your household. Prepare to beat Santa at his own game - these beauties are just what they're looking for under the tree... More...
Vouchers Gift Cards A magazine subscription is the perfect gift but you'll need something to show on the big day. View All
Ways to Pay Pocketmags Payment Types
At Pocketmags you get Secure Billing Great Offers HTML Reader Gifting options Loyalty Points