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Nanotech: The Little Big Science

tech-reviews Updated: Aug 30, 2007 16:34 IST
Rosy Mishra
Rosy Mishra
HindustanTimes.com
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Ever thought what would you do if you could do anything? Well, with the conceptualisation of nanotechnology, perhaps, you can have plenty of ideas. It's a kind of scientific contemplation that could turn your dreams into reality.

Nanotechnology is technology based on the manipulation of individual atoms and molecules to build structures to complex atomic specifications. To put it simply, nanotechnology is the ability to build objects one atom at a time. For this we would need atomic-scale tools about one nanometre big, which is one-billionth of a metre, only 10 atoms long.

To create objects of normal size, we would need billions of these little tools (called assemblers) working together. The easiest way to build billions of assemblers would be to design tools that can make more of them, in a way, reproduce (replicators). Since it's not feasible to devote billions of people to manipulate each individual tool, the tools must operate on their own, therefore, be programmable.

Is that possible?

Researchers believe they can design and programme atomic-sized machines that build real-world objects one atom at a time. With enough of such assemblers to carry out the task, aided by replicators to build copies of themselves, we could manufacture objects of any size and in any quantity using common materials like dirt, sand, and water.

Manufacturing costs would drop to nearly zero since there would be no need to transport raw materials to a factory or finished goods back to consumers.

This may sound like science fiction, but respected figures in the world of science agree that it is not impossible. And some of the fragments needed to give it a shape are already in place. New laboratory microscopes can not only see but also manipulate individual atoms. Biologists have begun designing artificial proteins that can move in premeditated ways, bending like small robotic arms.

Importance of design

Nanotechnology would make design the most crucial part of any development process. If nanotechnology is possible, the traditional costs of production (manufacturing, distribution, labour, raw materials) would come down to almost nothing. But the role of design work would actually increase due to the complexity of the technology. This will increase the power of designers.