Anish Mariathasan is 14 years old and has been fascinated by all things nano since he was 10/11. He loves science and outside school Anish enjoys reading, playing the guitar and hockey, as well as computer coding. Anish one day hopes to be a biomedical engineer and I think you will agree, with writing like this at such a young age, the future is bright for this young man!
The emerging discipline, nanotechnology, refers to a broad variety of fields and has vast potential (‘Nano’ refers to the sub microscopic scale of nanometres, 1 nanometre is 1 millionth of a millimetre).
A major sub discipline that has only recently emerged, nanobiotechnology or bionanotechnology refers to the merging of biology and nanotechnology and has a wide range of applications.
Arguably the main application is in nanomedicine, a newly emerging field which utilises nanorobots to treat diseases. As the 2010 International Conference on Nanorobots in cancer treatment said, “thanks to nanorobots, side effects of chemotherapy have been controlled, reduced and even eliminated, so some years from now, cancer patients will be offered an alternative to treat this disease instead of chemotherapy, which causes secondary effects”(1). These nanorobots, or nanosubmarines, use a range of methods to traverse through the body, and in this case leave healthy cells untouched while destroying cancerous cells.
Scientists are currently attempting to apply nanorobots to “detect substances, decontaminate the environment, perform targeted drug delivery, conduct microsurgery and destroy malicious cells”(2). Also, the diagnosis of illness or the detection of specific substances from within the human body allows doctors to accurately and easily diagnose patients, and enables one to detect illnesses from home as soon as they manifest. The ultimate goal of developing nanorobots “is to be able to produce a machine which can sense and respond autonomously, all while being fuelled by its environment”(1). Navigation through the complex human body, without becoming lodged in minute capillaries is a prodigious feat in itself, but to overcome the strong blood flow is currently impossible with electrochemical propulsion. Therefore, the nanorobots must be carried by the blood.
Aside from the nanorobots eventually acting as a highly advanced and remotely controlled immune system, nanotechnology has other implementations, like in the online shopping industry. The book Nano by Ed Regis shows these other uses for nanotechnology, discoursed by influential scientific leaders, like Richard Feynman and Eric Drexler, who explain that nanomachines could change the properties of objects, atom by atom to create anything you like. While sounding like science fiction now, objects you might acquire by internet shopping could be sent to your house printer (theoretically, the limit would be the size of your ‘assembler’) and the nanomachine would assemble it (as said in Nano).
However, the impacts of nanotechnology, aside from benefits like water purification/energy systems, physical enhancement, nanomedicine, better food production methods, and reduced physical requirements on humans due to automation, include several obvious negative effects. These include the displacement of jobs and entire industries, as nanotechnology can replace them, information security issues (as the nanorobots would collect data about your body) and possible health hazards or weaponry created by ‘rogue’ or dangerous replicating nanorobots, which, as accidentally coined by Eric Drexler, could result in the ‘grey goo’ apocalyptic scenario.
Nanotechnology will certainly prove to be an influential technology, just don’t allow the negatives to get under your skin!