Nanotechnology is a favorite word in Hollywood movies. It sounds futuristic, most people don’t know much about it which paves the way for a lot of crazy on-screen stuff with little explanation. However, nanotechnologies are quite real and have some interesting potential.
What is nanotechnology? Well, these days it’s used for quite a broad set of terms. The common idea is a robot or a device at the nanoscale. In the actual sense, though, nanotechnology encompasses a lot more items which are again nanoscopic, but not actually robots. For example, even a self-healing coating can be a form of nanotechnology.
So, here are some nanotechnologies which are already in use today.
Medicine delivery capsules
There are a lot of projects right now which explore the possibility of delivering medicine in tiny capsules precisely to the cells that actually need it. This is very important for curing many diseases. It allows for greater precision which lowers the risk of side effects. There are many options of how to execute this. The most common variation at the moment is the use of magnetic capsules which are guided through the body via magnetic fields.
Carbon nanotubes are a very broad development. They can be used for complex and strong structures, coatings or… artificial muscles. Currently, there’s a way to make such structures mimic the movement of actual muscles. One way to actually power them is with ions which make the “muscles” move in the desired way.
Coatings of various kinds
You may have heard about protective coatings for cars, buildings, even clothing which use “nanotechnology”. It’s not just a buzz word. Nanocoatings usually feature several layers of positively and negatively charged films which repel other substances like water, dirt and so on. It’s a simple method, but it can be very effective.
These printers can actually make real, functional molecules by using the instructions by the CAD software. This means you can tailor-make medicine for each specific case. Of course, at the moment this is highly complex and incredibly expensive, but it has great promise for the future.
And now here are a few things we could expect in the not-so-distant future:
Doctors inside the body
Not your “ordinary” nanocapsules. These are actual tiny robots which can autonomously travel in the body via the blood vessels. They can simply measure vital signs or actually combat viruses and even perform cell manipulations. Such concepts exist, but most are not at all ready for actual use yet.
Of course, we can also expect lots of nanoelectronics. From tiny sensors which measure anything you can think of, to intelligent devices which are weaved in the clothes. Nanotechnologies also allow for the creation of even more powerful devices without the actual devices getting bigger. For example – cramming more and more transistors into a chip with the same footprint. Something that’s already being done today, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement.
Yes, nanotechnology can also change the way we think about food. For example, tiny capsules which alter the taste but also make sure the food is safe. Special packaging with nanotech which prevents the goods from spoiling for a longer duration is also an option.
Fuel, solar energy or batteries? Nanotech has a place in all of them. There are already nanotech solar cells which aim to increase the efficiency and lower the costs. Nanotech in batteries also mean longer lasting, safer batteries and more power in a smaller package. Not to mention the possibility of flexibility, too. Nanotech can even improve the high-tension wires which are used to transport electricity. This means fewer losses and better efficiency.
Nanotechnology is also a key player in the battle of keeping the environment safe and clean. Special nanoparticles will be able to clean the rivers and oceans from chemicals, for example. Other ideas are to desalinate more water, make more efficient “paper towels”, better air filters and a lot more.
The good news – scientists and companies around the world are working actively on all of these projects and a lot more. Many are even just a few years away from actually happening and some are a reality. The bad news – even if they are ready right now, it will still take some time until they become cost-effective enough to be truly accommodated everywhere as needed.