Week 9 - Nanotech by Esteban Torres

Week 9 by Esteban Torres

cgon188l1During week 9 we mostly talked about and read about nanotechnologies.  On Thursday in Lecture, we had a guest speaker talk to us about nanotechnologies.  In our “Blurring Fact and Fiction” reading for this week, the journal began by describing the scale that nanotechnology operates in.  One nanometer is one billionth of a meter.  When trying to comprehend this scale, our minds fail because our human experiences and scale perceptions do not allow us to accurately understand the scale.  The text had some scale comparisons, such as explaining that the thickness of a human hair is about 50,000 nanometers.  Still, we can try to comprehend such a scale, but we really don’t. 

            Nanoparticles are so small that they cannot be “seen” by use of any technology (ex. microscope).  So the way to comprehend and map nanoparticles is by sensing them (feeling them).  For example, according to the article, the STM (Scanning Tunneling Microscope) operates by feeling the surface of the particles with something that resembles a tiny needle.  The article describes this new way of perceiving as a “shift from visual to tactile perceptions.”  Because of something known as the Raleigh Limit, there is an actual limit on how much you can magnify something before the image becomes blurry.  New technologies (tactile) technologies are necessary to comprehend what is going on in the scale of nanoparticles. 

            It was in 1959 when Richard Feynman introduced the idea of nanotechnology to the world.  According to the journal entry, he was more a “flamboyant personality” than he was a scientist.  This reminded me of Einstein’s quote: “I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”  A man who perhaps did not have any scientific basis for an idea was able to see beyond the potential limitations and let his imagination wander.  I think that this is a really important aspect in human intellectual development. 

            I think that the worst thing to do when you are brainstorming an idea is to consider the limitations first, and then consider the possibilities that are left.  Often we can override previously established rules with new ideas.  Rules that we think are fixed rules are often not fixed at all.  We make mistakes in judgment all the time.  Even physical laws we once believed to be universal – it turned out were relative, as regarded by Einstein’s theory of relativity. 

            The article talks about the blurred line between fact and fiction in nanotechnology.  One of the main questions in this field of study is whether the methods applied by mechanical engineering can possibly apply to engineering in nanotechnology?  The scale is so much different; it might be the wrong way to go about this new technology to apply our old ideas of engineering.

            Our guest speaker on Thursday, Jim Gimzewski, talked about the dangers in applying nanotechnologies, and also the moral problem of companies that apply the use of nanotechnology in their products, without truly informing the consumers.  For example, he talked about how a certain brand of sunscreen used nanopaticles in its product in order to make the sunscreen clear when applied to the skin.  The consumers did not know about this, and it turned out that the nanoparticles were dangerous and affected the skin.  With this kind of unperceivable technology, there are many opportunities for people to be very irresponsible.  The speaker talked about how there are about 50,000 industrial chemicals used in all the products around us, of which only about one-thousand have been tested for toxological effects.  Learning about these things makes me feel worried that the same irresponsible use of nanoparticles will take place.  There has to be more control over industry.  We criticize China for their lack of control (ex. lead in toy products), but obviously, we have huge problems with control of chemicals and technologies right here in the U.S.  Nanotechnology could do great things and bad things for us; but I hope that if the people find a problem with a certain nanoparticle or chemical, that they will not disregard the problem just for a monetary profit.  This all ties back to the pale blue dot – in an age where our wildest inventions and imaginations are coming true, we have to make sure we take care of each other because this planet and our species might be the only thing we’ve got.  We must proceed with passion and excitement, but also an air of caution. 

Sources

“Albert Einstein Quotes.” Famous Quotes and Quotations at BrainyQuote. 08 Mar. 2009 <http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/a/albert_einstein.html>.
CartoonStock - Cartoon Pictures, Political Cartoons, Animations. 08 Mar. 2009 <http://www.cartoonstock.com/newscartoons/cartoonists/cgo/lowres/cgon188l.jpg>.

 Vesna, Victoria, and Jim Gimzewski. “The Nanomeme Syndrome: Blurring of fact & fiction in.

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