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Nanotechnology and Man; the not so Solid Citizen.

Updated on February 27, 2011

Nanotech creations may kill and cure

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Credit cartoonstock.comRemote dragonfly? credit scienceblogs.comRichard Feynman
Credit cartoonstock.com
Credit cartoonstock.com
Remote dragonfly? credit scienceblogs.com
Remote dragonfly? credit scienceblogs.com
Richard Feynman
Richard Feynman

Nanotechnology: life in a test tube?

Until fairly recently - well, let's face it, everything man does is fairly recent if you look at the big picture - we were much more interested in outer-space than the unknowable inner-space, which we had no idea existed as we know it does today. Well, perhaps the outer vastness was also unknowable in the last analysis, too, but at least we could see the moon, the sun and the other stars; even some of the other galaxies.

But until the really, really recent time, we had little idea of what constituted the molecule and the atom, much less all the other tiny bits and pieces that are coming to light daily these days. Not very long ago, thanks to Darwin, man was still coming to terms with the idea that Adam and Eve had little to do with his evolving in the universe; now he was having to accept that he was not what he appeared at all, a solid, upstanding citizen made of flesh, blood and bones, if you like.

This is because of the work involved with the very, very small particles that make up everything in our world and the universe we reside in.

A man is not really a collection of organs and all the rest held aloft by a skeleton of bones and skin. We might say he is a organization of interrelating groups of cooperating particles. These operate with the atomic and electronic energy inherent in substances which have grown together to perform for a short time, until it is the moment to join the matter (or energy) bank as we die, which is just another word for radical change. (Sorry. It’s hard to “think” this stuff, never mind put it into coherent prose). And that which we had always considered as being solid is shown to be a porous as any sieve at the sub-atomic level...tiny neutrinos and the like can pass through a brick wall - or even the planet - with impunity.

So we stand tall, all the components of our bodies - and all the other clumps of matter in the universe - held together by the mortar of the "Strong Force," that mighty attraction between quarks and other particles within the atom, which prevent us collapsing into a puddle or a pile of billions of tiny bricks.

The old argument about whether man can create life himself is as old hat in 2011 as the fairy stories about Adam and the Apple. This is mainly due to the characterization of what life really is. Once, science teachers divided this into "life," and "non-life." Animals, including us, were of course "living," while a stone, the sea, the air and the stars, etc., were "dead." At least, not alive. But as we get deeper and deeper into the study of the very small: biotechnology, computer-technology and, especially, nanotechnology, the division between what we have traditionally thought of as being alive, and the rest of the stuff in the universe, becomes very unclear indeed. In fact, at the chemical level where particles are concerned, life is determined by the action and reaction within tiny universes composed of bits of matter, some with such short lives and so small they can only be deduced mathematically, or by their cause and effect.

We know now there’s as much going on in the atoms of a lump of granite as there is in an atom of Granny’s carbuncle!

The term Nanotechnology dates back over half a century, where it was coined by Richard Feynman during a speech titled, "There's plenty of room at the bottom." Despite billions being poured into research, and top corporations becoming involved, the science is still very much in its infancy. The US government alone has spent well over one billion dollars in funding.

When we are talking nanometres (NM) we are in the realm of science fiction. One nanometre, or an NM, is one-billionth of a meter! In other words, it is to a meter what a marble is to the size of the Earth. Nanotechnology deals with materials 1 to 100 NM's in size. To work with and construct machines (etc) at this size, the tools used in fabrication have to be of the same tolerances, too. This is the realm of quantum mechanics and rarefied air indeed.

To give you another idea, the smallest bacteria know to man is 200 NM's long. And the smallest atom, that of hydrogen, is just 4 NM's in length.

To work with these building blocks of matter, scientists lay such tools as the screwdriver and pliers aside. Labs all over the world are churning-out products using nanotech. techniques, and particles have to be assembled and formed into new arrangements by manipulation with other particles and the forces that hold and divide them.

The leading edge is concerned with self-sustaining machines that can "think" for themselves and, perhaps soon, be able to self-replicate themselves, the stuff of science fiction horror movies in the past. Who was it said, "Whatever we can conceive will one day be made?" One can't help pondering if life itself is not just a dream in which the players - ourselves - actually write the scripts and move the sets.

There are huge fortunes to be made in this technology, and scientists are truly concerned that nanotechnology may run amok in the search for more and more products designed in laboratories. We engineer plant crops now, and, despite controls, some of the nano-created types have been found growing among normal types with no one knowing - or confessing - to how they got there.

Legislators seem to be on the back foot in putting legal safeguards in place to prevent atomically engineered products find a place in many applications, with little regard to man’s safety from the creations.

Top writers, such as Michael Crichton - he of Jurassic Park - has taken things a whole lot further in his terrifying and eminently believable "Prey," where some nanotech molecules designed as minute cameras develop a mind of their own and turn on their creators.

The end of the book does get a bit silly, but the lead-up and the science is exemplary writing and shows the lengths techno-fiction writers have to go to today to produce a believable scenario.

(Crichton, the reclusive, 6'9" American writer was recognized by the literary community as one of their luminous stars. He passed away in 2006 with complications from throat cancer).

We have clamped-down on hackers and their ilk who create and spread computer viruses. Many of them are, in fact, in jail as I write. Some of these clever “electronic pathogens” are seen to mutate and recreate themselves to get past our firewalls and other barriers.

It doesn’t take a huge leap of faith to imagine some clever terrorists making “real” viruses using nanotech, to invade our societies and be able to mutate to beat any medical firewalls! It’s a doomsday scenario that is, frighteningly, almost possible.

It would seem we urgently need some world-wide body with teeth to study the new inventions flooding the nanotech market. Consider the benefits; assay the risks and add a stamp of approval or its reverse.

We can but dream. As ever, big money will have its way and damn the consequencies!

 

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    • profile image

      diogenese 6 years ago

      Thanks for interesting comment, Pierre. That's an angle I hadn't thought of...Bob

    • Pierre Savoie profile image

      Pierre Savoie 6 years ago from Canada

      "Who was it said, 'Whatever we can conceive will one day be made?'"

      Actually, God did: (Gen. 11:6)"...and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do." It must annoy the religion-believers that, to convince people of the greatness of God, they must convince people that man is a limited and incapable worm, and for centuries said that, for example, man can't fly through the sky like God can. Of course, we imagined ways to do it and now we CAN fly in the sky, several ways in fact (plane, helicopter or balloon-style.)

    • profile image

      diogenese 6 years ago

      Good point, Josh...we can but hope! Bob

    • joshhunt83 profile image

      joshhunt83 6 years ago from Bristol

      An excellent article. The potential for this technology is astounding but unfortunately so is the destructive potential. Let's hope that when this technology is fully developed mankind will be civilised enough to possess it.

    • profile image

      diogenese 6 years ago

      I am getting tired of hubs which promote religious books from Amazon. Jesus would have overturned their tables!

      Bob

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 6 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      Well, everyone perhaps except religionists who still think cavemen never existed!

    • profile image

      diogenese 6 years ago

      I heard that! Bob

    • QudsiaP1 profile image

      QudsiaP1 6 years ago

      It never ceases to amaze me how today I am surrounded by so much technology and yet in a few years people will look back and believe we were cavemen.

    • diogenes profile image
      Author

      diogenes 6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Thank you for your comment. Most enlightened religions today do not see a conflict between a god and evolution. To continue to deny evolution as bringing man to fruition as a fact is to remain as blind as a mole.

      Bob

    • profile image

      John Flower 6 years ago

      Sir, I have to respectfully disagree with your stance. Your writing is very good, but what you're writing of as accepted fact is unfortunately not. There is no solid proof that evolution (in terms of the origin of man) is hard fact. There are many views on the origin of man; many different philosophies. I am a born-again Christian. I believe that man was created by God. However, even among non-Christian scientists, there are different views on the origins of man, with some distancing themselves from Darwin's theory.

      Just a thought.

    • profile image

      diogenese 6 years ago

      Let's have a hub on all that, from the medical perspective; the advantages of nanotech.

      I'll link to it and you can link to mine if you wish...Bob

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 6 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      Cars that drive themselves and are capable of avoiding accidents

      Anything on Star Trek, Star Wars or Futurama

      Stem cell research that really works to replace old and diseased organs

      Artificial blood for transfusions (I've been working on this one)

      Nanotechnology that removes all extra calories and fat from our bodies (cancer cells too)

      Enforceable birth control (mandatory for Christians)

      Recyclable everything

      Beds that conform to our favorite sleeping positions (they will also repair sore muscles while we sleep)

      Food that tastes great and has no calories or detrimental side effects

      Faster than light speed travel (they say it can't be done, but I know better) :-)

    • diogenes profile image
      Author

      diogenes 6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Austinstar. That is so true. Look at Galileo with his telescopes and ideas for a submarine, etc. And the Greek philosophers envisaged happenings one day that have only been invented or discovered in the last 200 years or so. Perhaps we should bend our minds to the future and see if we can guess what comes next, if man doesn't exterminate himself...Bob

    • diogenes profile image
      Author

      diogenes 6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi Genna. I liked the title myself, it really fitted cheers...Bob

    • diogenes profile image
      Author

      diogenes 6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi Mikeq107: That is very kind of you. But it isn't true, I'm too lazy and undisciplined...Bob

    • diogenes profile image
      Author

      diogenes 6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Pr Morgan: Yes. It was a revelation to me as well. I wonder what is next! Bob

    • diogenes profile image
      Author

      diogenes 6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Thanks Hana...trust all will turn out well for you...let us know...Bob

    • diogenes profile image
      Author

      diogenes 6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi Bobbi: I had never thought of that aspect, but I imagine there is some truth in the fact they are looking for the secret of eternal life, and with all this technology, it might be possible for a very few before long. But there will be an awful payback no doubt...you can't fool Mother Nature! Bob

    • diogenes profile image
      Author

      diogenes 6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Thanks for all these kind comments. It's good sources, not me, but thanks...Bob

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 6 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      Walter Farley wrote a book called "The Island Stallion" which had friendly space aliens in it. One of the aliens was always saying "Nothing is ever really dead." This has been my mantra since the book came out in 1948 and I read it in 1962 or so. Some people are just way ahead of their time! Farley saw nanotechnology before it was "invented".

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 6 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      "...and the not so solid citizen." Perfectly stated in this amazing hub, dio. Just superb.

    • profile image

      mikeq107 6 years ago

      Hi diogenes :0)

      Great Hub by a great writer !!!!

      Mike :0)

    • PR Morgan profile image

      PR Morgan 6 years ago from Sarasota Florida

      Very interesting hub! I never thought about "life" that way...but I guess if you look at the atomic level..everything is alive in some way. Atoms are moving around, bouncing back and forth...it's a new definition of life!

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

      Wow, this was a great brain exercise for me, not being very knowledgable. Thank you, it was fascinating stuff. I hope you will bring out your knowledge more often.

    • BobbiRant profile image

      BobbiRant 6 years ago from New York

      This technology is of big interest to the elite and powerful because they believe they can become immortal. After all, the idea of them actually dying and leaving all that money behind is not a pleasant thought to them. They hope, by eliminating the big drain on natural resources that they alone can live long enough to find immortality through science. This technology, like everything else has a plus and minus side. Great hub explaining it.

    • diogenes profile image
      Author

      diogenes 6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi Cathylynn: Yes, I heard about Mexican corn.

      chpublish. Thanks for kind comment...

      Bob

    • chspublish profile image

      chspublish 6 years ago from Ireland

      I love this kind of information. Hope you write more. Thanks so far.

    • cathylynn99 profile image

      cathylynn99 6 years ago from northeastern US

      i heard this on the radio and don't remember all of it: Mexican farmers are coating fruit with nanoparticles, which aren't healthy when ingested.

      That said, I'm hoping there are lots of positive medical uses for nanotechnology.

    • diogenes profile image
      Author

      diogenes 6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Thanks Wiil. Seems anything and everything is possible, don't it? Watch out fer them rattlers, hear! bob

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 6 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      The possibilities are endless...like an elevator to space.

      More please!