Nanotechnology will increase your standard of living — no ifs, ands, or buts. Done right, it will make our lives more secure, improve healthcare delivery, and optimize our use of limited resources. Pretty basic stuff, in other words. Mankind has spent millennia trying to fill these needs, because it has always known that these are the things it needs to ensure a future for itself. If nanotechnological applications pan out in the direction they're headed, we are one step closer to ensuring that future.
Security is a broad field, covering everything from the security of our borders to the security of our infrastructure to the security of our computer networks. Here's our take on how nanotechnology will revolutionize the whole security field:
- Superior, lightweight materials: Imagine materials ten times stronger than steel at a fraction of the weight. With such materials, nanotechnology could revolutionize tanks, airframes, spacecraft, skyscrapers, bridges, and body armor, providing unprecedented protection. Composite nanomaterials may one day lead to shape-shifting wings instead of the mechanical flaps on current designs. Kevlar, the backbone fiber of bulletproof vests, will be replaced with materials that not only provide better protection but store energy and monitor the health status of our soldiers.
- Advanced computing: More powerful and smaller computers will encrypt our data and provide round-the-clock security. Quantum cryptography — cryptography that utilizes the unique properties of quantum mechanics — will provide unbreakable security for businesses, government, and military. These same quantum mechanics will be used to construct quantum computers capable of breaking current encryption techniques (a needed advantage in the war against terror). Additionally, quantum computers provide better simulations to predict natural disasters and pattern recognition to make biometrics — identification based on personal features such as face recognition — possible.
- Increased situational awareness: Chemical sensors based on nanotechnology will be incredibly sensitive — capable, in fact, of pinpointing a single molecule out of billions. These sensors will be cheap and disposable, forewarning us of airport-security breaches or anthrax-laced letters. These sensors will eventually take to the air on military unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), not only sensing chemicals but also providing incredible photo resolutions. These photos, condensed and on an energy-efficient, high resolution, wristwatch-sized display, will find their way to the soldier, providing incredible real-time situational awareness at the place needed most: the front lines.
- Powerful munitions: Nanometals, nano-sized particles of metal such as nanoaluminum, are more chemically reactive because of their small size and greater surface area. Varying the size of these nanometals in munitions allows us to control the explosion, minimizing collateral damage. Incorporating nanometals into bombs and propellants increases the speed of released energy with fewer raw materials consumed — more (and better-directed) "bang" for your buck.
Making the world around us more secure is one thing, but how about making the world inside us more secure? With nanotechnology, what's beneath our skin is going to be more accessible to us than it's ever been before. Here's what we see happening:
- Diagnostics: Hospitals will benefit greatly from nanotechnology with faster, cheaper diagnostic equipment. The lab-on-a-chip is waiting in the wings to analyze a patient's ailments in an instant, providing point-of-care testing and drug application, thus taking out a lot of the diagnostic guesswork that has plagued healthcare up to now. New contrast agents will float through the bloodstream, lighting up problems such as tumors with incredible accuracy. Not only will nanotechnology make diagnostic tests better, but it will also make them more portable, providing time-sensitive diagnostics out in the field on ambulances. Newborn children will have their DNA quickly mapped, pointing out future potential problems, allowing us to curtail disease before it takes hold.
- Novel drugs: Nanotechnology will aid in the delivery of just the right amount of medicine to the exact spots of the body that need it most. Nanoshells, approximately 100nm in diameter, will float through the body, attaching only to cancer cells. When excited by a laser beam, the nanoshells will give off heat — in effect, cooking the tumor and destroying it. Nanotechnology will create biocompatible joint replacements and artery stents that will last the life of the patient instead of having to be replaced every few years.
The only thing not in short supply these days is more human beings — and we're not about to see a shortage of them any time soon. If we are going to survive at all — much less thrive — we are going to need to find ways to use the riches of this world more efficiently. Here's how nanotechnology could help:
- Energy: Nanotechnology is set to provide new methods to effectively utilize our current energy resources while also presenting new alternatives. Cars will have lighter and stronger engine blocks and frames and will use new additives making fuel more efficient. House lighting will use quantum dots — nanocrystals 5nm across — in order to transform electricity into light instead of wasting away into heat. Solar cells will finally become cost effective and hydrogen fuel cells will get a boost from nanomaterials and nanocomposites. Our Holy Grail will be a reusable catalyst that quickly breaks down water in the presence of sunlight, making that long-wished-for hydrogen economy realistic. That catalyst, whatever it is, will be constructed with nanotechnology.
- Water: Nanotechnology will provide efficient water purification techniques, allowing third-world countries access to clean water. When we satisfy our energy requirements, desalinization of water from our oceans will not only provide enough water to drink but also enough to water our crops.