It’s been said that big things come in small packages. But according to experts at IEEE, the world’s largest professional technical association, some of the technology innovations and devices that could make the biggest impact in our world are so small millions of them could fit on the head of a pin. These game-changing advancements in nanotechnology, or the “science of small things,” are transforming the way researchers are approaching how to solve some of our world’s greatest challenges. How about solar cells embedded in paint to turn your house into one big solar panel? Or “quantum dots” that attack cancer, cell by cell, while leaving healthy tissue untouched? Or batteries for mobile phones that charge in seconds instead of hours?
Nanotechnology is the area of engineering that involves working with materials or developing devices that are smaller than 100 nanometers in at least one dimension. That’s about 1,000 times narrower than the width of the average human hair. While most electronic technologies today already use nanotechnology, many of these new applications take it to an extreme. Working at the atomic and molecular levels, also known as the quantum realm, the very mechanical, thermal, and catalytic properties of materials can change. “The challenge to making all these nanotechnology applications mainstream comes down to how we affordably and efficiently get them in the hands of people for practical use,” said Jo-Won Lee, IEEE Member and chair professor at the Department of Convergence Nanoscience, Hanyang University in Seoul, South Korea. Traditional manufacturing doesn’t usually work at the nano-level, but there is a better way being developed, he said. It’s called self-assembly, which essentially means the nanodevices build themselves, much like molecules form in nature to create larger systems.
One of the highlights of the council’s efforts this year is the 11th annual IEEE NANO 2011 Conference, 15-19 August, 2011, in Portland, Ore. International scientists and practitioners representing more than 20 IEEE societies will meet to collaborate on new areas of nanotechnology study, as well as see nanotechnologies at work in both their own and related fields.