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Nano Technology

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What is nano? A man’s beard grows 5 nanometers every second. Suffice to say that nanometer is very, very small. Despite its size, you can see the effect of things happening at the nano scale all around you: they give sunset its red color, allow birds to navigate, and help geckos stick to trees. But It’s only recently that we’ve actually been able to see down to the nano scale. This is nano you. We humans are strange creatures, aren’t we for honest? We like to measure things. Earth’s tallest mountains are over 8.000 meters tall, a football pitch is around hundred meters. I myself am about two meters when I’m standing up... in shoes. Good afternoon. Ants are few millimeters long, skin cells about 30 micrometers. We can’t see things this small. A bacterium is about 2 micrometers, smaller still are viruses. And so we go down to DNA, our molecular blueprints. DNA is 2 billionths of a meter in diameter or more conveniently 2 nanometers, the units that we use to measure the building blocks of everything. Welcome to the nano scale. To explore the nano scale we use very powerful machines called electro microscopes. Today we are gonna look at 2 things that you may have seen before. We’re going to look at a fly and a coin. So this is the “Z” on the coin. This is the fly’s wing. And who would’ve thought that it would’ve had all these little hairs sticking out from it. The tip of each of these hairs is only about 600 or 700 nanometers in diameter. When we use electro microscopes, we explore new and alien landscapes. It’s a strange new world down there. The nano world isn’t just unusual looking, things behave differently there, too. One reason for this is surface area. If you take a cube and lay the surface flat, you can see how much of that cube can react with the outside world. If you divide the same cube into 8 little cubes, the surface area is twice as big. If you keep making smaller cubes, the surface area becomes immense. More surface means more area for reaction. This is why powdered sugar dissolves faster than sugar cubes. Big lumps of aluminum are not very reactive, but nano particles of aluminum are so reactive, they can be used in rocket fuel. Another way we can show this is with flour. This flour doesn’t burn very easily when it’s in a pile. Because it hasn’t got enough surface area. But if we mix it with a lot of air, there’s something quite different. Light also behaves differently as you head down to the nano scale. White light contains all colors. When particles get really small, they start to bounce only certain colors back. So you see them as those colors. As gold gets smaller, it stops looking gold and instead reflects red, purple, blue and finally become invisible, when it’s too small to reflect any colors of light that you can see. These strange properties of light can be very useful. Welcome to nature’s nano I’ve always wondered how butterflies and beetles can make these strong and iridescent colors. So if we take a butterfly wing and we put it on the microscope, we see thousands and thousands of small little bright blue scales. Each of these scales is colored by little ridges running across the scale. Each of these little ridges, if you cut right through them, look like a christmas tree. This structure is finely tuned to reflect only the blue part of light. So the butterfly appears bright blue. If we just replace the air in this nano structure with a bit of liquid, you’ll see that it changes colors from bright blue to bright green. It fills in the gap around the nano structure and makes it better of reflecting green light. When the liquid evaporates, it returns to reflecting blue. Please don’t squirt butterflies! Life has spent 3.8 billion years finding clever ways to use the nano scale, now we can understand nature’s nano secrets, we can use them for ourselves. Many tropical plants have leaves where water just runs off. This keeps them clean. If we look at the nano scale we can see tiny structures which stop the water from sticking. By copying these structures we can make our own water repellent surfaces. Some that even honey doesn’t stick too. Ants have really cool feet, they can stick upside down to surfaces, holding up to a hundred times of their own weight, without falling down. We look closely we see tiny little pads on their feet that help them to stick. By investigating the micro structure insect’s feet we can design surfaces hard for them to climb, bad luck for cockroaches. Pitcher plants eat insects that slip into them, but they don’t work unless all of their rim is covered in water. To make sure they are as slippery as possible, they have a nano trick up their sleeves. You can see how the water spreads, even up against the gravity. If we look at them we see that they have a lot of grooves running across the rim. And in between these grooves if we look on a nano scales there are even smaller grooves. This is called a super hydrophilic surface, which means that the surface likes the water and pulls it across itself. Once the water is spread thinly across this micro and nano grooves, they become very slippery, and it’s goodbye ants, hello pitcher plants dinner. Hydrophilic surfaces have lots of uses, but one particularly excellent one is in a new water filter. This can filter even the tiniest bugs from dirty water, making it safe to drink. Even really dirty water. Looking around the natural world is a great way to pick up ideas for things to make ourselves, but with the nano technology we can make new structures that nature’s never even tried. Making new nano Down at the nano scale things are gloopy, and there’s lots of friction. This means particles stick together really easily and this happens again and again, new and complicated structures can be formed. This is called self organization. Scientists have been carefully experimenting with different conditions to see what sorts of new nano structures they can create, the results are astonishing. Here are some samples I made under various conditions, but when we zoom in on the nano scale, we can see that they are extremely different. These ones remind me of the Eiffel Tower. They are really quite beautiful, these hexagons all stacked on top of each other, like pyramids. You can also make other materials, such as: very thin wires, ones that go like pancakes or ones that look like flowers. All these new structures have different properties, soon they’ll be changing the way we live. From the solar panels that we spray onto our roofs. To making computers and batteries so small that they are invisible. The materials we use have some severe limitations, push them too far, they break. But nano researches are discovering ways around these limitations. Electronics is made over silicone and silicone is not very stretchy. But we found the way to make electronics stretchy. When you put a really thin layer of gold onto rubber and you stretch the rubber we found that the gold doesn’t break. This is because when gold is just a few nanometers thin, it forms cracks and this cracks actually allow gold to stretch. That means that in future you can take your mobile phones, stretch it, wrap it around your wrist or even embed it in your clothes. Using the new materials made possible by nano technology we could build stronger houses, tougher cars and even make ourselves healthier. Medical researches are already looking at using nano particles to deliver drugs or to hunt down cancerous tumors. I’m a brain surgeon. It’s my job to treat patients with brain tumors. What we would love is some of sort of nano particle that is taken into these tumors that allows us to identify where the tumor cells are. In the future nano medicines could patrol your body, hunting down diseases and zapping problems. Nano close up Standby for the smallest thing you’ve ever seen. This may look like deep sea submarine, but it is actually a scanning tunneling microscope. Inside it’s more empty than space and it has revolutionized our view of the nano world. This is an image of a piece of carbon and these spots are the single atoms on the piece of carbon, so one spot is one atom. So this is the smallest thing that you can see, the smallest thing you will ever be able to see with any microscope. If you listen carefully you can even hear the atoms as the microscope scans over them. This year researchers imaged the internal structure of a single molecule for the first time. This is the most detailed view of matter that we’ve ever had. Remarkably, it looks almost identical to our models. Not only can the microscope take images, it can also moves things around. We can actually change the position of atoms, one at a time, using this microscope. So we can use the microscope to choose an atom on the surface, move it to a new place and then do this with as many atoms as we want to built up a new structure. And that’s where nano technology comes in, because nano technology is all about changing the properties of matter atom by atom, by making new structures. Throughout history we’ve making smaller and smaller machines. Now scientists are looking at ways to create machines at the smallest scale possible, using atoms as their building blocks. Some researchers believe that we can construct molecular machines that can make anything we wanted. If this happens it will revolutionize our lives. We know that molecular machines can work because they are in every cell of our bodies. They are working away right now turning food into energy, fixing damage, keeping you warm and making new cells. You are already a master piece of molecular nano technology. The Nano Future Mark Welland is professor of nano technology at the Nano Science Center of the University of Cambridge. Imaging a small implant with which you can think equivalent to your mobile phone that communicates directly with your brain as the internet does currently with rest of the world. If I want to think a connection with my son, who is working in the Himalayas, I can think the connection and just as your mobile phoned us it will dial up the device inside my son and I would talk to him, I would see him, I would feel his emotions. We would be infinitely connected to each other and infinitely connected with all the information that is around us. If this all sounds more like science fiction to you, think how quickly our world is already changing. Someone born in 1930 would never’ve believed that in their life time thousands of people would be flying around the world in metal tubes everyday. That men could’ve walked on the moon and that you would be able to watch this film on something called the internet. I hope this has given you a taste of the world that always been around, but that we are only just starting to explore. Many people think that this coming age will be the age of nano. If so, you will be the people to explore it. And what your generation discovers will be perhaps the biggest technological leap in history. It could take you into atoms and beyond the stars... Good luck!

Video Details

Duration: 17 minutes and 26 seconds
Country: Chile
Language: English
Producer: David Dugan
Director: Tom Mustill
Views: 868
Posted by: ambler on Jun 3, 2010

Narrated by Stephen Fry, the video was created as part of an EU-funded project called Nanoyou.

Subtitles and translation by Edgard Ambler

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