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Quantum leap: Nanotechnology, from science fiction to reality

If you can control atoms and molecules and assemble them to do specific tasks at the molecular level, you can build systems that can revolutionise the way we live. Building such clever and invisible nano-sized machines is the lofty goal of nanotechnology.

The idea has been around for almost four decades but nanotechnology applications in recent years have been mostly passive — like in sunscreen lotions or car bumpers. Come the 2020s, and some of the nano gear will move from labs into our bodies, home appliances, cars, airplanes, food, solar panels, smart cities and whatever else you can think of. A nanometre is one-billionth of a metre or one-millionth the size of an ant.

Machines built at such invisible scales can flow in our blood and do tasks they are programmed to do — like removing arterial plaque, dissolving clots, monitoring the condition of heart, liver, kidneys, detecting and eradicating cancer and actually redefining the proverb prevention is better than cure.

Futurist Ray Kurzweil is one of the biggest proponents of nanobots streaming through our blood in the near future. Theoretically, nanobots can be used to monitor our body for maladies and other symptoms, constantly transmitting information to a cloud which will, in turn, be monitored by health specialists.

Nanobots could be made of biodegradable nanomaterials, dissolving after the task is done. For other applications, like in cars, clothes, airplanes or solar panels, materials made out of carbon nanotubes (a nano-sized cylinder of carbon atoms) will be deployed, creating stain-resistant shirts, lighter and fuel-efficient cars and planes with scratch-resistant paints and so on.

More than 10,000 patents on nanotechnology have been filed with the US patent office. Global nanotechnology business is expected to be around $125 billion by 2024, with startups to large companies, including GE, Intel, Samsung, BASF and AkzoNobel, developing products and solutions around nanotechnology.

Much of the deployment and benefits will be seen towards the end of the 2020s — particularly for those in medical use as nanoswimmers pass human trials and regulatory hurdles. Invisible they might be, but their impact will be massive and ubiquitous.

This story is part of the ‘Tech that can change your life in the next decade’ package

Source: Economic Times