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The Future of Nanotechnology – Where Can it Take Us?

written by: Finn Orfano • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 7/2/2008

Nanotechnology is constantly being defined and redefined to meet the skepticisms of people and allow a better explanation of the term to exist. Don't worry, the future of nanotechnology does not involve flesh-eating robots!

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    Visions of nanomachines that can replicate themselves and devour the earth are things for science fiction movies. In reality the idea and theory of radical nanotechnology could possibly pose great benefits to the future of our society. Nanotechnology has slowly been gaining popularity in popular culture and the scientific community. Although nanotechnology has numerous potential for positive impacts on society, scientists are discouraged by the misrepresentation of nanotechnology and its possibilities in science fiction works.

    The view that is held by some followers of the more science fiction notion attached to nanotechnology is that of tiny robotic machines that somehow infiltrate our bodies and attack us, or other such crazy notions. Scientists argue that the good that could come out of the implementation of nanotechnology is abundant and hopefully the rest of the skeptics will begin to see the positive benefits of using nanotechnology to help develop things to improve our lives. Even things like stain-resistant clothing and better acting sunscreens can all be credited to nanotechnology.

    The definitions of nanotechnology are very broad in scope, which could be part of the reason for some skepticism about the field. It is assumed that any kind of technology that results from the ability to manipulate and change any kind of matter on these kinds of scales must be nanotechnology. However, many success stories that are attributed to nanotechnology are really just results of lengthy research and study in fields such as colloid science.

    Because of the confusion surrounding the definition of nanotechnology, scientists have began to define different parts of nanotechnology to create more specific definitions. Incremental nanotechnology involves the ability to improve certain properties of materials by being able to control their structure on a nano-scale. One example would be plastics. Plastics can be reinforced using particles of clay on a nano-scale which makes them stronger and more resistant to chemicals. Also, cosmetics can be made using different ways to formulate the oily phase and make it more easily dispersed on the skin, therefore leading to the improved feel and look of the skin after the cosmetic is applied. Although these are good examples of incremental nanotechnology, they are not fully representative of nanotechnology in its broadest sense.

    Both examples are ways incremental nanotechnology works but in terms of a decisive new science, they are more of a product of sophistication and improvements in the methods of the science already being used then a new one altogether.