The future is all in the tiny.
Known as nanoparticles, these are the tiniest particles, so small that we can’t see them or even imagine how small they are.
University of Waterloo’s Frank Gu paints a picture of their scale.
“Take a Timbit and start slicing it into smaller and smaller pieces, so small that every Canadian — about 35 million of us — can hold a piece of the treat,” he said. “And those tiny pieces are still a little bigger than a nanoparticle.”
For years, consumers have seen the benefits of nanotechnology in everything from shrinking cellphones to ultrathin televisions. Apple’s iPhones have become more powerful as they have become smaller — where a chip now holds billions of transistors.
“As you go smaller, it creates less footprint and more power,” said Gu, who holds the Canada research chair in advanced targeted delivery systems. “FaceTime, Skype — they are all powered by nanotechnology, with their retina display.”
At the heart of nanotechnology is manipulating materials in such a way that can change them — taking away the impact of gravity, changing colours, or increasing power.
By building structures the size of molecules — so many atoms taken together — their properties can get engineered in a way that wouldn’t ordinarily exist.
Gu and other experts believe nanotechnology is on the cusp of changing our daily lives in many other ways — from energy production to coatings used in textiles to make them antimicrobial or to the delivery of medicine.
Nanotechnology could profoundly change health care — targeted therapy is one example, where a pill with active ingredients could be aimed at specific cells, avoiding side effects. Or nanoparticles could be manipulated to ensure medication such as eye drops remain on the surface of the eye without wasting any drops.
Nanotechnology could also indicate whether surfaces contain pathogens with a simple colour change, which would stop the spread of infections in hospitals or long-term care facilities. Or create no-stick surfaces to keep germs off, say, a baby’s pacifier.
Gu expects everything to get smaller. He even believes that an invisible car, as seen in James Bond films, or an invisibility cloak featured in Harry Potter books are possible.
“Those are pure science fiction, but we are getting closer and closer to developing them,” he said with a broad smile.
“We are at a pivotal point that we are beginning to see how to harvest nanotechnology,” said Gu, who believes the potential is endless.
Doing the math
A centimetre is 1/100th of a metre
A millimetre is 1/1000th of a metre
A micrometre is one-millionth of a metre
But that is still huge compared to the nanoscale.
A nanometre is one-billionth of a metre
But as tiny as the nanometre is, it’s still large compared to the atomic scale because an atom has a diameter of about 0.1 nanometre. That means at a nanoscale, atoms can be put together to make almost anything.
Source: Berkeley Lab
Source: Berkeley Lab
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