Can Nanotechnology Save Lives?
by Michael Rosenwald
Synopsis and resource annotations by Max Grinnell
The world of nanotechnology is quite small. Not in terms of actual
intellectual breadth or creativity, but by mere definition. Nanotechnology is
the science of structures measuring between 1 nanometer (or a billionth of a
meter) and 100 nanometers. The potential applications for nanotechnology have
grown in recent years, and institutions and organizations around the world are
trying to capitalize on new advances in this particular branch of science.
This article by Michael Rosenwald from the August 2010 edition of
magazine profiles the work of Harvard Professor George Whitesides.
Whitesides teaches chemistry and his work in the fields of biology, engineering,
physiology, materials science, physics, and nanotechnology over the past several
decades has been prolific. Through a discussion of Whitesides' discoveries,
patents, and research, Rosenwald examines the science of nanotechnology and the
consumer projects currently available that make use this type of technology.
Whitesides' latest project, the so-called "lab on a chip," is the size of a
postage stamp, designed to diagnose a variety of ailments with the precision of
a high-tech laboratory. This device will allow health workers in the developing
world to use a patient's blood or urine to detect one out of 16 of the most
common ailments. Potentially, the health worker may be able to then send a photo
of the stamp with a cellphone to a doctor for a tentative diagnosis.
The article goes on to discuss future nanotech projects, which may include
ultrasensitive devices to detect oil, particles that can deliver medicine to
kill a tumor, and batteries that could last months and power electric cars. In
the final part of the article, Whitesides considers the direction of his own
work and nanotechnology, "What I want to do is solve problems. And if nano is
the right way of solving the problem, I'll use that. If something else is the
right way, I'll use that." At the end of the article, readers will also find
related links and a photo gallery to supplement the story.
Found below is a list of useful resources that will illuminate and enhance
understanding of the topics found within this article.
The first link
take visitors to Nanowerk, which includes up-to-date news about nanotechnology,
nanotech resources, and job opportunities in the field.
The second link
to a great 10-minute video which can be used by educators to introduce students
Moving on, the third
leads to a lesson from the NanoEd Resource Portal. The module teaches
students about the interesting science that happens at the nanoscale, the tools
used by scientists to study objects so small, and the potential applications of
discoveries made in nanotechnology.
The fourth link
users away to a site provided by the National Nanotechnology Infrastructure
Network, which explains how nanotechnology is used in products like pants and
The fifth link
to Live Science's page on Nanotechnology, which details the future benefits that
nanotechnology research could serve including advances in telecommunications,
information technology, healthcare, and pharmaceuticals.
The final link
visitors to an online activity on the cell membrane and nanotechnology created
by the Wisconsin Online Resource Center.
This resource is provided by the NanoEd Resource Portal, and is one
of a number of nano lessons provided on the site. This lesson is
"The Nanotechnology Module", which is a joint project with the
Institute for Nanotechnology at Northwestern University. The module
teaches students about the interesting science that happens at the
nanoscale, the tools used by scientists to study objects so small,
and the potential applications of discoveries made in
nanotechnology. Activity 1 introduces the concept of nanometer,
asking, "Just how small is a nanometer?" and "How does the size of
something determine its physical and chemical properties?" To give
students an idea of the different technological developments that
are in existence in the "Nano-World," in Activity 2, they are asked
to choose a nanoscale object from a list of examples and research
its properties and current and future uses. In Activity 3, students
create a macroscale model of what scientists do at the nanoscale
with masking technology. Such a technique could be applied to create
nanoscale circuitry, for example. Activity 4 looks at the challenges
of signal amplification that one faces when working with nanoscale
objects. The challenge in the culminating design project is to
design, build, test, and evaluate a working model of an atomic force
microscope (AFM), a valuable instrument scientists use to "see"
nanoscale objects. Although research efforts in nanotechnology are
still in the preliminary stages, the discoveries have the potential
to significantly impact the fields of medicine, electronics,
information technology, pharmaceuticals, and materials science,