Nanotechnology: small science, big deal
- By: Tony Delamothe
The Science Museum's latest exhibition defines its subject as the active making, manipulation, and measurement of extremely tiny things. These things are measured in nanometres, with a nanometre being a millionth of a millimetre, or about as far as a fingernail grows in a second.
At the nanoscale, materials behave differently, and it's their weird and wonderful properties that nanotechnology sets out to exploit. Increased reactivity is one such property—a function of the increased ratio of an object's surface area to its volume as it gets smaller. For example, nanoparticles of silver are more reactive than large particles. Attached to cotton fabric, nanoparticles stop bacteria and fungi growing, hence their use in wound dressings and non-smell socks.
Most medical uses of nanotechnology, however, are hypothetical. What research has been done, warns the exhibition, is at an early stage, and interventions will have to undergo rigorous trials before entering clinical practice.