The more the debate over what precisely nanotechnology is goes on, the more inclined I am to think that it’s something of an illusion. Sure, nanoscale science is real. And there are clearly technologies that exploit this. But are they nanotechnologies, or are they simply clever uses of science, technology and engineering across multiple length scales to do something different? In other words, does nanoscale science simply lead to… technology? This piece from September 2008 hints at this line of thinking as it grapples with what “nanotechnology” actually means. Originally posted September 3 2008. Amidst the cacophony of debate swirling around the true meaning of nanotechnology, I head a voice or reason last week. The voice was that of Dr. Bernd Sachweh of BASF, speaking at the European Aerosol Conference in Thessoloniki. I paraphrase, but the essence of Bernd’s point was this: ‘Nano’ is not a thing or a product. It has no intrinsic value. Rather, ‘nano’ adds value; it changes the properties and the worth of something that already exists. I must confess, I rather like the idea of ‘nano’ as adding value, rather than being an entity in and of itself. It’s hard to come up with of an example where engineering something at the nanoscale leads to behaviour or functionality that is independent of the starting material. Rather, the great potential of nanotechnology would seem to be in taking raw materials and engineering them in ways that lead to the emergence of novel scale-related properties, which can then be used in new and innovative ways.
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