Travel through wormholes, time machines and hovering landspeeders are the stuff of science fiction novels. Nevertheless, scientists have suggested that the quantum mechanics of something called the Casimir effect can be used to produce a locally mass-negative region of space-time, a phenomenon that theoretically could be used to stabilize a wormhole to allow faster than light trave. For many years the Casimir effect was little more than a theoretical curiosity. With the advances in micro- and nanotechnology and the fact that the Casimir force affects nanoscale devices such as NEMS, research in detecting and manipulating this mysterious force has generated substantial interest. Now, the secretive DARPA, a research agency of the U.S. Department of Defense that often dabbles in far-out technologies - and that also brought us the Internet's predecessor ARPANET - is soliciting innovative research proposals in the area of Casimir Effect Enhancement.
The term 'mechanical engineering' generally describes the branch of engineering that deals with the design and construction and operation of machines and other mechanical systems. Students training to become engineering professionals have to delve into subjects such as instrumentation and measurement, thermodynamics, statics and dynamics, heat transfer, strengths of materials and solid mechanics with instruction in CAD and CAM, energy conversion, fluid dynamics and mechanics, kinematics, hydraulics and pneumatics, engineering design and so on. If you are currently doing coursework in mechanical engineering, better add nanotechnology courses to your core curriculum.
The Office of Technology Assessment at the German Parliament (TAB) has released a massive 266-pages report on Converging Technologies (CT). The report's author, Christopher Coenen, analyses CT-related political initiatives and activities in the USA, European Union and Germany as well as some other countries. Utopian and dystopian long term visions for Converging Technologies and Human Enhancement offer clear potential for social conflict. Most of the discussions have so far been limited to academic circles, but some have reached political relevance. These focus on the relationship between nature and technology and between the grown and the artificial. Differences in views on what it means to be human are central to these disputes. The criticism against promoters of convergence visions is that the feasibility is doubtful and that the views are inspired by political and ideological motives. The report outlines options for actions and the possible requirements for research and he ends his report by suggesting options for research funding.
Archaeological evidence indicates that ancient Chinese and Babylonian civilizations already were using fingerprints to sign legal documents as early as 1000 BCE. As early as 1880, Dr Henry Faulds, an English physician working in Tokyo, published a letter in the journal Nature suggesting the use of fingerprints for identification purposes. Today, fingerprints are still the primary method of identification of criminals although the techniques for fingerprint detection and enhancement have become hi-tech and involve nanotechnology applications. The most problematic of fingerprints are latent prints that are not readily visible and that require development by chemical and/or physical means. Usually, the choice of the technique for fingerprint development is dependent on the composition of latent fingerprints, on the type of substrate and on the ability of the technique to be applied in sequence in the context of the case. A new review paper describes the current status of nanotechnology-based techniques such as application of metal-containing nanoparticles and nano-structured particles to fingermark detection. It concluds that nanotechnology is likely to play a major role in the future to deliver more selective and more sensitive ways to detect and enhance fingermarks.
Consider this: in fields like nanosciences and nanotechnology the knowledge doubles in as little as five years, making a student's education obsolete even before graduation. But while the knowledge is growing exponentially, the established mechanism of getting this knowledge into the public domain has not changed much. This begs the question if the traditional scientific paper publishing model is still adequate and able to cope with the fast pace of how things develop in the scientific world. It can take up to two years from the time a scientific study is conducted to the actual publication of its findings in a paper in a peer-reviewed journal. By then, the underlying research might already be out of date.
Oscar Pistorius - also known as 'Blade Runner' - is a double leg amputee who is using specially developed artificial legs to compete in races. A world record holder in the 100, 200 and 400 meters Paralympic events, Pistorius was denied by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) his application to participate in the 2008 Summer Olympics. The IAAF argued that his prosthetic racing legs give him a clear competitive advantage. On May 16, the IAAF's decision was overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, allowing Pistorius to participate in the Olympics if he could make the minimum qualifying time. This episode drives home the monumental issues our society will be facing in the not too distant future thanks to our increasing technological ability to enhance the human body. Terms like 'health', 'disease', 'therapy' and 'medicine' will have to be radically redefined.
Most people in the world know exactly how long a kilometer is, how large a liter is, how much a kilogram weighs, and how warm 25C is. That's because almost all countries in the world have adopted a standard called the metric system - since the 1960s the International System of Units has been the internationally recognized standard system for measurements (only three countries have not adopted this standard: Liberia, Myanmar, and the United States - the latter maybe because the metric system was invented by the French...). The need for standardization also exists in various fields of nanotechnology in order to support commercialization and market development, provide a basis for procurement, and support appropriate legislation/regulation. When it comes to nanotechnology, numerous standard setting organizations around the world are active in defining nanotechnology standards, although no one standard has achieved dominance yet.
Ask 10 people what nanotechnology is and you will get 10 different answers. And then there are all these terms floating around: 'bottom-up' and 'top-down' fabrication, 'atomically precise manufacturing', 'molecular assembly', 'self-assembly', 'nanorobots', 'nanofactories' and so forth. Try describing nanotechnology as a top-down fabrication process and the folks over at Foresight and CRN will tell you what a short-sighted wuss you are. Try describing nanotechnology the Drexlerian way as a bottom-up molecular assembly technology and some scientists will tell you that you are smoking too much of the good stuff. And then of course you hear about all these 'nanotechnology' products already hitting the market - but they seem decidedly low-tech, such as golf balls, 'no-smell' socks, toothpaste, scratch-resistant car paint, and so on - that's what we have been investing billions and billions of dollars for? Pretty confusing, huh? Let's start to disentangle...