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Nano Technology and Nano Ethics - Introduction

By Ted Peters

Are We on The Brink of a Nano Revolution?

Are we in the beginning stage of a new revolution in technology: the Nano Revolution? Like the genome revolution of a decade ago, will nanotech call for social impact assessment? Will Nano Ethics become a new field?

By any measure, world attention to nanotechnology indicates something big is about to happen. In 2004 industries and governments worldwide invested $10 billion in Research and Development. At least 60 nations now sponsor national nanotech research programs. In 2006 President George W. Bush budgeted $1 billion in U.S. federal support for the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), this on top of $5 billion already spent. This is more than either the Apollo moon shot or the Human Genome Project.

We use the term nanotechnology to refer to the manipulation of matter on the scale of atoms and molecules. From the Greek word, nanos, meaning dwarf, a nanometer (nm) equals one billionth of a meter. It takes ten atoms of hydrogen side-by-side to equal one nanometer. Compare this to a DNA molecule which is 2.5 nm wide, or a human hair which is 80,000 nm thick. Only atomic microscopes are able to see things on the nano scale.

The NNI Reports Some of Their Recent Discoveries:

  • Nano-electro-mechanical sensors that can detect and identify a single molecule of a chemical warfare agent - an essential step toward realizing practical field sensors.
  • Nanocomposite energetic materials for propellants and explosives that have over twice the energy output of typical high explosives.
  • Prototype data storage devices based on molecular electronics with data densities over 100 times that of today’s highest density commercial devices.
  • Field demonstration that iron nanoparticles can remove up to 96% of a major contaminant (trichloroethylene) from groundwater at an industrial site.
  • For more see: http://www.nano.gov/html/about/home_about.html

Looking ahead, we can expect the field of nanobiotechnology to integrate biological materials with synthetic materials to build new molecular structures. New living systems may be built in laboratories out of a synthesis of living and non-living parts which will be programmed to perform specific tasks in the human body. For example, nanosized robotic machines - called nanobots or nanites--could circulate in the human blood stream transporting oxygen or hormones faster and more efficiently than what nature to date has been able to do. Some nanotechies such as Ray Kurzweil speculate that if we replace 10 percent of our red blood cells with these nanobots, we could do an Olympic sprint for 15 minutes without taking a breath or sit at the bottom of a swimming pool for four hours. Nanobots could travel inside the body and brain to perform therapeutic functions as well as enhance our strength and intelligence.

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