"Visions of World Benefit & Global Responsibility: Perspectives of McGill Students

Sunday, July 29, 2007


The term nanotechnology is used to describe the science of building devices from single atoms or molecules. It is related to fields such as applied physics, material science, colloidal science, device physics, supramolecular chemistry, mechanical and electrical engineering. The concept of nanotechnology was first introduced by physicist Richard Feynman at an American Physical Society meeting in 1959. The word itself was defined 15 years later by Professor Norio Taniguchi of Tokyo Science University in his paper “On the Basic Concept of Nano-technology”. Later on, the term is popularized after the publication of the book “Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology” in 1986 by K. Eric Drexler.

Scientists and researchers are currently undergoing researches that look for the maximizing use of nanotechnology. Materials developed such as carbon nanotubes, fullerenes, nanoparticles and nanorods might be useful in nanotechnology. There are two approaches to make nanomaterials: “bottom up” approach and the “top down” approach.
In the bottom up approach, small components are made into more complex structures. An example of it is DNA Nanotechnology which uses the specificity of Watson-Crick basepairing to build well-defined structures out of DNA and other nucleic acids. A more general example would be molecular self-assembly which uses the concepts of supramolecular chemistry and molecular recognition to cause single-molecule parts to arrange themselves into useful conformations. On the other hand, the top-down approaches create small devices by using large ones in their assembly. Examples of it are technologies descended from traditional solid-state silicon methods meant for manufacturing microprocessors. Giant magnetoresistance-based hard drives and nanoelectromechanical systems and atomic force microscope tips are devices created using these techniques.

Nanotechnology holds a very promising future for the world. It is significant for 21st century leaders and societies because its potential effects on humanity are unlimited. In the near future, we will be able to replicate anything, including water and food. We will see no more hunger. As for the computer industry, molecular computers that could contain storage devices capable of storing trillions of bytes of data in a component the size of a small sugar cube will be created. As for the field of medicine, nanorobots will be able to attack and reconstruct the molecular structure of cancer cells and viruses and cure patients. Nanorobots will also be able to perform surgeries as nanosurgeons that work a thousand times more precise than a scalpel. It will also have a positive effect on the environment. Nanorobots will be used to fix the ozone layer. Water will be purified from pollutants. On the other side of the coin, there are some possible downsides for nanotechnology. Forms of nanoparticles can get through the skin, be inhaled by the lungs and get into the bloodstream which could cause health problems for human beings. Another concern is the contamination of environments. Nanoparticles could accumulate in living organisms and do damages to the earth’s ecosystem.

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