Nanotechnology is no longer a technology-in-waiting. It is already ubiquitous in its reach and effect. In this issue of NANO magazine, we look at many applications of nanotechnology to our everyday lives, and its promise for the future. For example, nanotechnology has great potential for architecture, and it is recognised that buildings are a major contributor to global warming. It is argued that if architects are better informed about nanotechnology and prepared to design-in innovative materials to make buildings more sustainable, this will have an immediate and beneficial effect. One architecture practice is already so committed to nanotechnology, the partners are even developing their own nanomaterials, to suit specific architectural applications.
Another theme this issue is inspiration from nature. Smart companies and researchers are looking at the natural world for a treasure trove of ideas that can form the basis of innovative new products and processes, and several exciting possibilities are explored in an article by a world expert in the field of biomimetics.
Nano risk and toxicology are favourite media subjects, but perhaps more importantly, how society perceives the benefits of nanotechnology will be critical to influencing its acceptance. What ethical questions should we really be asking? and are these are different for nanotechnology, as opposed to any new technology? A problem that affects us all is the growing costs of providing for an ageing population. Nanotechnology can offer ways to help older people retain the use of their faculties, and more importantly, their independence, for longer, while reducing the costs borne by the State. Healthcare, but for the world’s poor, is also a theme uppermost in the mind of George Whitesides, subject of the interview this month. Interestingly, what works for the poor also works for the rich, and many lessons can be learned.Finally, informing the general public is the key to acceptance of a technology, and the nanocommunity has not succeeded very well in this sphere. However, a far-sighted EU-funded project, NANOYOU, is reaching out to schools across Europe, and providing teachers and pupils with exciting teaching materials, so, if this generation isn’t particularly well-informed, the next one will be!
Nanotechnology in architecture is addressed compelling by Sylvia Leydecker in this issue. She states that innovation-driven materials and products are critical in achieving green construction, which is now at the forefront of much architectural debate. Ms Leydecker believes that nanomaterialshave a huge potential in this area, which isyet to be realised, as architects have not yetengaged fully with what is available. As abasic principle, she call for architects, planners and project developers to learn and understand the possibilities offered bynanotech, if they are to meaningfully addresssustainability in their work.
Following on from a plea that architects become more acquainted with nanotechnology, the Decker Yeadon agency in New York has come up with new concepts based on nanotechnology that could shape thefuture of homes and offices. They soconvinced by its benefits that they have justinvested in making Buckypaper, a newmaterial which has an electrically conductive coating of multi-walled nanotubes. As half of allenergy consumption and greenhouse gasemissions in the U.S. can be attributed tobuildings, it is hoped that this new material willreduce cooling-costs and green house gasemissions in hot climates. Other nano-based ideas for sustainable buildings are discussed, including low power smart devices that would help control ambient temperatures.
In a world where nanotechnology productsare becoming increasingly ubiquitous, the search for new and better nano-basedproducts continues.
Mother Nature has evolved an answer to many problems over the 3.8 billion years since life is estimated to have first appeared on earth. By gaining an understanding of how the natural world works, we can imitate nature to produce new and better materials, devices and processes.
The emphasis on nanoscience and nanotechnology since the early 1990s has provided a significant impetus in mimicking nature, using nanofabrication techniques for commercial applications. It is estimated that the 100 most important products based on biomimetics has generated about US $1.5 billion over 20052008, and annual sales and product diversity are expected to continue to increase dramatically. Bharat Bhusan takes us on a whistle stop tour of the natural world and some of its attributes that are leading to new commercial products.
The ethical debate on nanotechnology is an exciting one, which poses many complex questions -such as how we perceive nature, as opposed to artefact; the possible redefinition of the norms of health and disease; the likelihood of Transhumanism (which forecasts that nanotechnology will radically transform our world, and even ourselves); questions such as the fair distribution of the benefits of nanotechnology; and the nature and extent of scientists’ responsibility for the consequences of technological innovations. Marc Pavlopoulos explores how we can ask the right questions, and discusses the surprising ways in which society adopts a new technology.
The subject of this month’s interview is Harvard Professor George Whitesides. Professor Whitesides is not only successful as an academic, but is also named on over 50 patents. A lifetime of knowledge and experience has led him to a profound understanding of what society needs from science. His view is that, where science thrives on complexity, and unexpected outcomes, society needs simplicity allied to function, and at low cost. And once given the ‘tools’ that meet this definition, Professor Whitesides predicts “People will build stuff you cannot begin to imagine”. At present, one of his interests focuses on the delivery of healthcare in the developing world, at close to zero cost. These low cost solutions paradoxically also represent major opportunities in combating the spiralling and unsustainable costs of healthcare in the developed world.
Nanoscience and nanotechnologies are widely seen as having huge potential to bring benefits to many areas of research and application, and are attracting rapidly increasing investments from Governments and from businesses in many parts of the world. At the same time, it is recognized that their application may raise new challenges in the safety, regulatory or ethical domains that will require societal debate. Nanotechnologists are often criticised for their lack of interest or inability to communicate the issues around nanotechnology to the general public. One way to improve understanding is by engaging young people in dialogue about its ethical, legal and social aspects is needed. NANOYOU (Nano for Youth) is a project funded by the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Programme that aims to achieve this through an appealing variety of media, games, role playing and other interactions.
The country profile this month is Brazil. In the last few decades, many South American countries have sloughed off their old images of corruption and poverty, and replaced them with a go-ahead, entrepreneurial culture and an increasingly fairer distribution of wealth and opportunity. Brazil may have been a little later in getting to grips with the potential of nanotechnology, but investment and strong policies linking science and industry are reaping the benefits. José d’Albuquerque e Castro who has been involved in nanotechnology in Brazil, both from within University and Government, gives an all-round perspective on the state of the technology and where it is headed.
The cost of supporting the needs of an ageing population is growing, with longer life expectancies. This month’s article on nanomedicine by Ottilia Saxl, explores the broader issues of how nanotechnology can provide important benefits to an ageing population, in terms of prolonging independence and quality of life for as long as possible, while reducing costs. It discusses how nanotechnology research is leading to a range of medical interventions that can extend the use of faculties and senses for longer, and also technological advances that can reduce dependency on expensive healthcare professionals.