Let’s Get Small
Published by Dwell

Nanotechnology is the science (or the art?) of manipulating atoms and molecules one by one. It will change everything we know about manufacturing and design.

The common conception of nanotech is that it involves the creation of submicroscopic machines—–tiny robots that can be shot into our bloodstream to clear the cholesterol out of our arteries or sent to the ocean floor or the surface of the moon to build exploration infrastructure.

That may still happen, but not for a while. The first wave of nanotechnology came to market around 2003 and is based on the creation and replication of “dumb” molecules smaller than one-hundred-thousandth of a millimeter, used primarily for their material properties. It has given us stain-free clothing and tiny video screens, but no injectable robots.

The second wave of nano will give us seemingly magical materials: an absolutely transparent, glasslike material that can also act like a radio antenna, or a material as light and flexible as plastic but also thinner than a soap bubble, stronger than steel, and as chemically reactive as the inside of your nose. The result will be that objects made by nanotechnology will not be made of components. A current-day cell phone contains a battery, a display screen, an antenna, a camera, tiny screws, a circuit board, and a great many electronic parts like computer chips, capacitors, resistors, and diodes. A cell phone made through nanotech will likely be a flat piece of material, looking like undifferentiated plastic made of smart materials that can manipulate electrical signals like a computer chip, emit colored light like a display screen, or vibrate in the right way to behave as a microphone.

Nearly everywhere in the world, you can buy nails, screws, lightbulbs, fastening bolts, electronic components, batteries, and so on that will work with other components bought nearly anywhere else in the world. Nanotech design can and most likely will lead to the abandonment of these components and the standards they’re built on.

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