- ENTERING THE NANO AGE
The next big thing is going to be very, very small. "Nano" is the Greek word for dwarf. "Nanotechnology" (or technology on the nanometer scale) is defined as,
"The design, characterization, production, and application of structures, devices, and systems by controlled manipulation of size and shape at the nanometer scale (atomic, molecular, and macromolecular scale) that produces structures, devices, and systems with at least one novel/superior characteristic or property." - Nanodic.com
Nobel Prize winner Richard Smalley explained it as simply, "The art and science of building stuff that does stuff at a nanometer scale."
Miniaturization is one of the main driving forces behind the development of successively improved generations of technology. Miniaturization has progressed exponentially over the past several decades. As it continues to divide matter into smaller and smaller blocks, miniaturization will eventually come to an end as we reach the fundamental limits imposed by the physical size of atoms.
Luckily, as Richard Feynman pointed out over 50 years ago in his visionary lecture, There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom, atoms are incredibly small. Atoms make up almost everything that you can see and feel. They are the smallest indivisible components of the visible Universe. Depending on the kind of atom, if you could align them side by side, it would take between 22 million and 156 million atoms to stretch out just 1 centimeter! They are so small, that according to K. Eric Drexler if a machine were able to position 1,000 atoms per second, it would take more time than the current age of the Universe to build up a barely visible speck of matter! A half-millimeter diameter grain of sand, for example, contains 2.75 million million million (2.75 quintillion) atoms! And, there are an estimated 6.7 billion billion billion (6.7 octillion) atoms in a 70 kg human being.
To comprehend how large these numbers (and how small atoms) really are, consider that there are 22.2 septillion drops of water in the world's oceans, and the earth weighs approximately 5.42 septillion kg. This means that there are about 300 times more atoms in the human body than there are drops of water in all the world's oceans. Or, there are roughly the same number of atoms in your body as there are grams of matter in the entire earth!
ENTERING THE NANO AGE
Historically, various epochs of human evolution have been defined by the most advanced materials technology of the day. For instance, the Stone Age, Iron Age, and Bronze Age. We are about to enter a new era - the Nano Age - or the age of "engineered nanomaterials." Nanomaterials are called so by virtue of having at least one dimension in the 1-100 nanometer (nm) range, which results in novel properties not seen in materials of the same type, but larger size.
"Nano" is becoming the new buzzword, but it is much more than just the latest marketing ploy. The term "nano-technology" was coined in 1974 by Norio Taniguchi, (27 May 1912 - 15 Nov. 1999) a professor of Tokyo Science University. Today, there are already a vast (and rapidly growing) array of products (including foods) available using some form of nanotechnology.