Christopher Aherne investigates the impact of the development of nanotechnology

If you ever find yourself in the city centre with some time to spare, sovaldi sale I might dare to recommend a walk down Pearse Street where you can find a small gallery with big ideas. The Science Gallery, decease “a place where ideas meet opinions and collide”, located just inside Trinity College (thankfully not too far past the gates) is a modern, open plan building which since its opening in 2008 has housed some of Dublin’s quirkiest and most exciting exhibitions. From the “Crochet Coral Reef”, an entire study on these ecosystems through examples made of wool, to “Love Lab: The Science of Desire” the Science Gallery has seen its fair share of eccentric science.

Their current exhibition focuses on the world of nanotechnology, an area of massive interest in modern science. Nanotechnology, as I recently learned, deals with materials on a scale from 1 to 100 nanometres. To put that into perspective, a human hair is 100,000 nanometres thick. This is science on a tiny scale and as a result, its influence pervades, ranging to cover everything from electronics to medicines. Nanotechnology is involved everywhere in modern products: whether it be sun cream to your mobile phone, look and you will discover that nanotechnology has a played a part in its creation. Nanotechnology involves modifying structures on an atomic level. When you are able to operate and experiment on this small a level it creates an almost endless list of possibilities. It is now possible to create materials with extraordinary dynamics, from extremely light and strong materials to designing actual human tissues to be used in medical procedures.

While Nanotechnology is mostly a modern science, ancient civilisations were using its products while the elements were still thought to be earth, wind, fire and water. The Damascans were master craftsmen whose swords were known to be stronger and sharper than any other. While they achieved this through trial and error it was the molecular structure of the metals they mixed for their swords at an atomic level, which gave their swords the reputation.

The ideas that led to Nanotechnology as it is now known were born in 1959 when Richard Feyman introduced the idea of machines which could function at an atomic level. While it was a massive announcement and well ahead of its time, there was already proof of the existence of such devices. Although machines that operate on such a small level may seem quite eccentric, they had already existed in nature for a long, long time. The living world is packed with machines that function on this scale routinely with enormous efficiency. Be it from chloroplasts in plant cells creating food from light, to ribosomes building proteins at an astronomic rate in all cells, nano-machines have existed since the beginning of life and the idea that scientists could create machines on a par with these was a revolutionary idea. The field then went into hiding, and was heard of only lurking on the pages of science fiction novels until the 1980’s when the tools needed for exploring this new world were developed and the field of nanotechnology was officially created.

Nanotechnology is an exciting and fast moving field, creating materials which wouldn’t have seemed possible 10 years ago. This is proved by a quick walk through the exhibits on show at the science gallery. One of the more eye catching exhibits is the next revolutionary concept phone called the Nokia Morph. Due for release in 2015, the Morph phone hopes to use nanotechnology’s latest advances to create a phone which is both flexible and transparent while maintaining all the mod cons of an everyday phone. If you thought the Iphone had created an intolerable bunch, the Nokia morph will create a new breed. Designed to be worn around the wrist the morph would be a foldable device which can adapt in size and shape for whatever function the user needs it for. It is also believed that the phone itself will function as a form of solar cell and so charge when in sunlight. This phone is a great example of what nanotechnology is capable of but it only scratches the surface.

A great interactive exhibit at the gallery and one of the pinnacles of nanotechnology are molecules called carbon nanotubules. These strange molecules are tubes of carbon which are 50-100 times stronger than steel at only a quarter of steel’s density. This discovery has aerospace engineers massively excited as it creates a huge broadening of the range of craft they can develop. One of the more prominent ideas is the creation of a space elevator, which as science fiction based as it sounds, has been receiving a massive amount of attention recently, especially now that it is possible to create these lighter and stronger materials which are necessary for such structures.

While the possibilities of discoveries in this area are great, there have been some reservations as to the morality of such discoveries and to the legislation regulating this new nano-world. Arguments from the effects of nano-particles in modern day products haven’t been fully tested, to the potential nano-science creates for new biological weapons are all valid and so far have not been fully dealt with by any government or the scientific community as a whole. As many critics have observed the time for the conversation on the regulation of nanotechnology should be now and not when the science has gone too far to be regulated, examples like the global presence of nuclear weapons is a clear example of failed regulation. The debate on regulating this new science should be now and not before the science goes too far.

Regardless Nanotechnology has become a huge sector in Ireland, in 2008 it was estimated that nanotechnology products made up to 10% of the €150 billion Ireland made in exports that year. UCD have made moves to take their cut of this market with the opening of NTERA ltd. in 1997, a company which creates interactive packaging through nanotechnology advances. Whatever results from nanotechnology it is most definitely going to be an ever more present in our day-to-day lives.