More Science Fiction Benefits from Nano

It is amazing the way science fiction can influence the real world. Most recognize the cell phone as an outcome of the “Star Trek communicator”. Sure, it is not attached to our shirt/blouse and we just tap it to talk. The cell phone has provide the opportunity to communicate with almost any place in the world. The Motorola original mobile phone pre-dated Star Trek. Advances in electronics has enabled the reduction in size while increasing the functionality. There are literally billions of these communication devices throughout the world. The individual circuit elements are in the nano size realm.

The crew of the “Enterprise” (The Star Trek vessel) would select their meals from a computer and have a “replicator” create the food. In my December 31st, 2013 blog, I covered 3-D printing of food. There are pictures of chocolate, sugar, and deep fired corn dough. While not the basis of everyday fare, it showed the potential. The Small Business Award in March 2013 was aimed at developing the consistency of traditional food along with taste and appearance. There is significant interest from NASA for this technology. Without a food replicator, carrying food on long space voyages becomes a problem that requires providing space in the vehicles for large quantities of food or space for some type of agricultural section to grow the food. The replicator provides an improved means of carry the food if only the constituent parts are required, and they can be safely stored for long periods of time. This same technology can provide food for people in inhospitable regions of our planet.

An article this week [1] covers a device being developed that can diagnoses hundreds of diseases using a single drop of blood. Dr. Eugene Chan and his team at the DNA Medical Institute have created a handheld device (rHEALTH) that can accomplish this using a single drop of blood. The claim is that patients will give 1,500 times less blood than would otherwise be required for all the tests. The device uses nanostrips and reagents to send the sample through various lasers that perform the necessary analysis to provide diagnoses for the person. This device is currently going through the approval processes. There is also a wearable, Bluetooth device that can provide additional information to the device. Is this the first implementation of the Star Trek Tricorder?

Along with these advancements, there have been advances in bionics (for example my February 6, 2014 blog). The ability to create artificial limbs that are controlled via brain waves and provide the ability of sensing are under development (Star Wars). The sensing mechanisms need to be small and integrated. A bionic hand needs to have all the movements of a normal hand, which includes the ability to determine hot/cold, pressure, slipperiness, to name a few. These functions require multiple sensors in each finger, for example. As the sensors increase in number, the size needs to decrease toward the nano realm.

It will be very interesting to watch how quickly these develop to everyday products like the cell phone did.  Nanotechnology is enabling a change, for the better, in everyday life.

References:

[1] http://www.wired.com/2014/11/device-diagnoses-hundreds-diseases-using-single-drop-blood/

About Walt

I have been involved in various aspects of nanotechnology since the late 1970s. My interest in promoting nano-safety began in 2006 and produced a white paper in 2007 explaining the four pillars of nano-safety. I am a technology futurist and is currently focused on nanoelectronics, single digit nanomaterials, and 3D printing at the nanoscale. My experience includes three startups, two of which I founded, 13 years at SEMATECH, where I was a Senior Fellow of the technical staff when I left, and 12 years at General Electric with nine of them on corporate staff. I have a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin, an MBA from James Madison University, and a B.S. in Physics from the Illinois Institute of Technology.

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