A student wrote to me: “What is Nanotechnology? I have read several articles about nanotechnology science but I cannot understand it or imagine what it is. Is it possible to explain it in simpler examples? Please help.”

Answer: In simple term, Nanotechnology is the engineering of functional system at the molecular scale. Nano-scientists work on materials at a very small scale to build microscopic devices. Nano refers to one-billionth of something. If you look at a ruler with millimeters on it. Divide one millimeter into a million pieces. That is the world of nanotechnology.

For example: One area of current research is in the use of Nano-tubes: a microscopic tube that can be used to transport various elements into cells. A scientist can place Nano-tubes directly into cancer cells so that medicine could go directly into these cells and destroy them without affecting other normal cells. Another area is to build Nano-robots, these tiny robots can be injected into the blood stream to seek out cancer cells and destroy them. Imagine in the next few years, you go to a doctor to get treatment for a disease. The doctor will inject into your bloodstream a tiny robot. The robot detects the cause of your disease, travels to the appropriate part of the body and provides a dose of medication directly to the infected area. Of course, the robot has to be small enough to navigate through the human body and carry the medicine dosage. After it, the robot must find a way to get out your body too. This is not fiction but it already being done in several laboratories. Today there are robots that can travel in your digestive system and take pictures inside your body and send it wirelessly to a computer so doctor can inspect your internal digestive system. The camera pill is very popular in several hospitals and soon you will see it in many places.

Today the term “High-Tech” often means three important technologies: Information, Bio and Nano. These technologies often work together to provide something highly valuable to society. To take advantage of the next explosion of high technology, we need to educate students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) so they can easily interact with this technologically changing world. That means all training programs from elementary to college must change to prepare students in STEM fields. Recently, most people have realized the impact of Information Technology in personal computer and smart-phone, but it is only the beginning. There are many wonderful things being developed in research laboratories but not yet commercialized. The question is: What will happen if we just continue to ignore these emerging technologies? Someone has estimated that if Information Technology is a trillion dollars business, then Biotechnology will be a ten trillion dollars business and Nanotechnology will be a hundred trillion dollars business. If Information technology has created billionaires then Biotechnology and Nanotechnology will create trillionaires.

The High Tech fields demand workers who are skilled in STEM so it is important to develop these skills to meet the demand in the coming years. The technology world is creating exponential growth and demand. Students who study these careers will have the best job opportunities. If you want to be among those who do, you must focus your study on STEM so you can be prepared to meet the ever-growing challenges and possibilities.

See the camera pill on video:

Nanorobots video:


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University

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