Thesis: Information Technology and Its Uses in the Nano

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Information Technology and Its Uses in Nano Technology

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Information Technology and Nanotechnology

The future of modem society is often referred to in terms of technology and particularly new and innovative technological discoveries. While from one perspective science and technology has been blamed for many of the ills of modern society, such as the threat of climate change, on the other hand discoveries associated with new technologies have also increased optimism with regard to a better future for humanity. (Murphy & Pardeck, xv) One need only think of the controversy about the discoveries in genetics and cloning, which is seen as positive from a medical point-of-view and condemned from various ideological and mortal perspectives.

Thinkers and scientists have also explored the ways in which technology will impact the 21st Century. Matthews (2002) refers to four key areas in science that are in the process of converging and which hold promise for the future. These areas are; "...nanoscale science and technology (nano), biological and biomedical science and technology (bio), information science and technology (info), and environmental science and technology (enviro)." (Matthews) Matthews explains that,

Each of these areas cuts a wide swath of territory and reaches into the traditional areas of science -- chemistry, biology, physics, mathematics, and earth science -- touching different subcommunities. The intellectual, technical, and commercial products of the interconnection among the sciences and engineering disciplines are reshaping our future.

Matthews)

This paper will explore the implications of these views in terms of the relationship and interaction between information technology and nanotechnology.

2. Overview

The link between information technology and nanotechnology is an area of ongoing speculation and interest in the scientific community. The way that nanotechnology also interacts with and relates to other technologies, particularly in the area of the advantages of miniaturization, is an aspect that will also receive attention in this paper.

In essence, the field of nanotechnology can be seen as."..the natural continuation of the miniaturization revolution that we have witnessed over the last decade, where millionth of a metre (10 -6m) tolerances (microengineering) became commonplace... "(WHAT IS NANOTECHNOLOGY?) the application of this technology can be seen for example in the automotive and aerospace industries. However, what is significant from the point-of-view of the present discussion is that the computer and information technology industry was the first to "push the limits of miniaturization" and promote the interaction between these two technologies.

This relationship is seen by many researchers as important and mutually beneficial. As one commentator on the relationship between nanotechnology and information technology emphasizes, "...many electronic devices we see today have nano features that owe their origins to the computer industry." (WHAT IS NANOTECHNOLOGY?) Nanotechnology can therefore be found in products such as, CD and DVD players and inkjet printers. It is this symbiotic relationship between these two technologies that is a central focus of this discussion.

2.1. Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology is described as a new technology "...that had its birth within the information technology wave." (Dewick, Green, and Miozzo) While this technology has enormous potential there are at present still relatively few applications that have been created with nanotechnology. However, some researchers are of the opinion that, "...although nanotechnology's most pervasive impacts seem some way off, probably after 2020, it is likely that some nanotechnology products will make an impact on the industrial scene before then." (Dewick, Green, and Miozzo)

In essence nanotechnology is understood as the "... technology of designing, fabricating and applying nanosystems. A nanosysytem is a system that is synthesised to a nanometre scale... " (Kurup P.) the term nanotechnology comes from the Greek word meaning " dwarf." (WHAT IS NANOTECHNOLOGY?) the actual measurement of a nanometre is one billionth (10 -9) of a meter, which is the length of ten hydrogen atoms. (WHAT IS NANOTECHNOLOGY

The origins of this technology can be traced back to the ability to view atoms and molecules by means of microscopes. This only became possible when a new and more effective type of microscope was developed in the latter part of the Twentieth Century by IBM. (WHAT IS NANOTECHNOLOGY

This is an initial indication of the importance that the information technology industry has had for the development of nanotechnology.

One common but rather simplistic definition of nanotechnology is 'engineering at a very small scale'. (WHAT IS NANOTECHNOLOGY?) While this goes some way to explaining the way that nanotechnology is applied in areas such as medicine, manufacturing and computing, and even to textiles and cosmetics, yet it does not fully explain the depth and potentialities of this technology.

If one is to appreciate the potential of this technology it is important to understand the two basic approaches that are used in applied nanotechnology. The first and most prevalent approach is termed the "top down" approach. This is explained as the "... process of scaling down bulk structures to the nano-scale, using etching and machining techniques." (Nanotechnology - an Introduction) This applies to the above-mentioned definition.

However, the true potential of this technology lies in the "bottom up" approach - which is also referred to as molecular nanotechnology or advanced micro-machining technology. This approach refers to the actual building or creation of a nano structures through the accumulation and manipulation of atoms and molecules. Examples of the ways in this approach can be used is in nano-manipulation or the direct control of individual components as well as self-assembly, which refers to building blocks automatically arrangement into desired patterns. (Nanotechnology - an Introduction)

One of the many advantages of this technology is in the creation of new and extremely small amounts of rare material - which implies that it is a technology that does not waste or use rare materials excessively and it can also make use of recycled materials. One example given of this economy of usage is that in nanotechnology "... The design of new catalysts at the nanometer level (nano catalysts) can replace the use of rare materials" and " the design of light and strong materials for micro devices can lead to savings in energy." (Nanotechnology - an Introduction)

Furthermore, nanotechnology is seen as an essential step in the next generation of electrical and computational devices. As many studies note," it is common knowledge that modern science has come up against many walls or limitations that cannot be overcome with the present state of technology." (Molecular nanotechnology) it therefore follows that if computers and other devices and components can be developed at a nano-scale there is the possibility that these limits of technology can be overcome. With regard to computers this would mean a shortened links between devices and reduced electrical resistance. (Molecular nanotechnology) This is an aspect that will be dealt with in more detail in the discussion on technological convergence in the sections below.

2.2. A brief history of nanotechnology

One of the central underlying perceptions that form the foundation of nanotechnology was suggested by Richard Feynman in 1959. This was the view that almost any chemically stable structure can in fact be built. Feynman stated that, "The principles of physics, as far as I can see, do not speak against the possibility of maneuvering things atom by atom." (Nanotechnology - an Introduction) This view was to initiate the thought processes and the innovative ideas that would lead to the actualization of nanotechnology.

The actual term 'nanotechnology' was initially used by Norio Taniguchi of the University of Tokyo in 1974, when he used the term to differentiate submicron technology from micron-level technology. (Nanotechnology - an Introduction) the popularization of molecular technology was mainly due to the writing and research of Eric Drexler and his work, "Engines of Creation" (1996). This book is considered to be the defining book for molecular nanotechnology. (Nanotechnology - an Introduction)

Drexler is in fact credited with the initiation of molecular manufacturing. He realized that potential of molecular machines that could control the chemical manufacture of various products. In Engines of Creation Drexler discussed this type of manufacturing process. Drexler would go on to bring the possibilities of nanotechnology to the world with his 1992 publication Nanosystems: Molecular Machinery, Manufacturing, and Computation. This technical work outlined "... A way to manufacture extremely high-performance machines out of molecular carbon lattice ("diamondoid")." (Phoenix) Drexler was also involved in various forms of activism to raise awareness of the potential and the possibilities of this new form of technology. This was to result in the founding the Foresight Institute in 1986. (Phoenix)

Drexler's works were used extensively to promote and advance the acceptance of nanotechnology. The publication of Nanosystems: Molecular Machinery, Manufacturing, and Computation is now being taught at the Universities in the United States. Funding is of course an important component in the testing and the advancement of any new technology. Federal funding for nanotechnology was started under President Clinton with the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI). (Phoenix)

An overview of some of the highlights in the historical development of nanotechnology sheds some light on its contemporary importance as well as its relationship to information technology. The first nanotechnology journal was… [END OF PREVIEW]

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