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Throughout history, machines, tools, devices, etc. have become smaller. But not until recently have we been able to see down to the lowest level - to that of the nano. With electron microscopes, nanotechnology allows us to create things at the smallest levels possible, using atoms as the building blocks.

Nanotechnology is all about changing the properties of matter, atom by atom, to make new structures. Scientists and engineers study the properties of things in nature at the nano-level to uncover their secrets and understand how they behave, and then recreate those properties to bring us a plethora of new products (e.g., looking at plants to see the nanostructures that keep water from sticking to the leaves leads to products with surfaces that can repel water or filters that can clean the tiniest bugs from water and make it safe to drink).

Scientists and engineers are also making new structures that have never existed in nature - structures with new properties that have the potential to change much about the ways in which we live (e.g., solar panels that you spray onto your roof, nanoparticles that deliver drugs or hunt down cancerous tumors).

One of the reasons for different behaviors at a nano-level is the surface area - more surface area means more area for reactions. Nano-sized particles have very large surface areas relative to volume. Big lumps of things aren't very reactive. This is one of the reasons why, for example, it's easier to get a fire started in your fireplace with small sticks instead of one, big log. Light also behaves differently at the nano-level (e.g., as gold gets very small, it stops looking like gold and instead reflects colors of red and purple). Even gravitational forces become negligible at the nano-level.

Another characteristic at the nano-level is that things become very "sticky." Particles stick together very easily, which allows for new and very complex structures to be formed. Sometimes, these particles can even "self-organize."

The human body is the quintessential nanotechnology machine. Our bodies are made up of cells. Each cell is a molecular machine. These machines perform our basic, life-sustaining functions, such as converting food into energy, keeping our bodies warm, or fixing damaged cells. Imagine that, one day, nanotechnologies will circulate in your body to hunt down diseases and kill them before they become a problem just as your body can currently can do naturally today.

Considering we are getting better at manipulating matter at the atomic level, is there anything we couldn't conceivably make? How does nanotechnology change our lives? Will nanotechnology help us make the biggest technological leaps in history? What would you like to see nanotechnology lead to?

NANOYOU - Narrated by Stephen Fry


Original posting by Braincrave Second Life staff on Oct 19, 2011 at http://www.braincrave.com/viewblog.php?id=659

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