A Handful of Thoughts on Nanotechnology

Have you heard of the chemical industry? It has developed mostly since World War II to a little fanfare from a few places, but its effects on life in the developed world have gone mostly unremarked-upon. It is because of this development (some might call it a revolution) that we have useful plastics. Ponder plastics for a moment.

The chemical revolution gave us not just useful plastics, but our entire modern approach to domestic problem-solving: buy chemicals! Practically all household cleaning products, most personal hygiene products, and even the modern pharmaceutical industry all spring directly from the chemical revolution. Chemistry has solved a whole host of problems we never knew were solvable: our clothes no longer have to come out of the dryer hard and scratchy, or even electrically charged; malodorous organic molecules no longer need be left to float freely in the air, assaulting our nostrils; washing our hair no longer must leave it dry and frizzy. Our societal mastery of molecular reactions has given us a vast toolbox from which to draw as we attempt to improve our lifestyles.

The least that nanotechnology has to offer would put it on the same scale as chemistry with regard to its effect on our lifestyles. Nanotechnology, like chemistry, is a vast toolbox from which we will be able to draw when we seek solutions to our problems. Like chemistry, nanotechnology will give rise to new classes of structural materials, new approaches to medicine, and new ways of controlling our environment. Nanotechnology’s fundamental limits have often been argued, but even by the most conservative estimate the field could bring about just as much change as did chemistry.

The most that nanotechnology has to offer would put it closer to the scale of the industrial revolution. I leave you to ponder that thought for a while.

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