Speculation on Future Nanotechnology Applications

Even though much has been accomplished in developing nanotechnology applications, much more is still deemed possible. Three of the most fascinating examples — all in the speculative phase — are the space elevator, molecular manufacturing, and cellular repair.

Nano-climb into outer space

The space elevator, which would allow us to send items into space relatively cheaply, involves a cable made incredibly strong with the use of carbon nanotubes. The cable might be connected to the top of an asteroid that orbits our planet and to an anchor station somewhere in one of our oceans.

Equipment and materials would be sent up to space using space elevator cars. Solar cells located on the space elevator cars would use light to run the elevator, amounting in huge savings over the cost of rocket fuel to send a ship into space.

Yearly space elevator competitions are conducted by the Elevator 2010 group. These competitions invite creative people to produce prototypes for the space elevator and vie for some hefty cash prizes.

Replicate materials using molecular fabrication

If you're a Star Trek fan, you remember the replicator, a device that could produce anything from a space age guitar to a cup of Earl Grey tea. Your favorite characters just programmed the replicator, and whatever they wanted appeared.

Nanotech researchers are working on developing a method called molecular manufacturing that may someday make the Star Trek replicator a reality. The gadget these folks envision is called a molecular fabricator; this device would use tiny manipulators to position atoms and molecules to build an object as complex as a desktop computer. Researchers believe that raw materials can be used to reproduce almost any inanimate object using this method.

Molecular fabricators may be available to anybody, anywhere in about 20 years or so. When fabricators are available, you’ll be able to program an item’s design into the machine, and that item could be produced cheaply and in large quantities.

This could significantly improve living conditions in regions that do not have easy access to manufactured goods. For example, water filters could be produced to help in regions with contaminated water supplies, and solar cells could make electricity available in the remotest jungle or desert.

The existence of molecular fabricators could cause interesting ethical challenges as well as tremendous potential for upheaval in our economy.

Reverse the effects of aging with nanorobots

Are you more interested in the Fountain of Youth than replicating solar cells? Then you’ll be glad to hear that techniques for building nanorobots are being developed that should make the repair of our cells possible. As we age, DNA in our cells is damaged by radiation or chemicals in our bodies. Nanorobots would be able to repair the damaged DNA and allow our cells to function correctly.

This capability to repair DNA and other defective components in our cells could not only keep us healthy but also potentially restore our bodies to a more youthful condition.

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