Nanotechnology? What's That?!

Friday, March 7, 2008

Nanotechnology is the big buzz word in the world of science. It's going to impact just about everything we do, touch and see. And this next big thing is extraordinarily small.

You've heard the word, but do you know what nanotechnology is?

University of Wisconsin-Madison engineer Wendy Crone is on a mission. She and her interns are creating user-friendly exhibits to teach the public about the nanoworld.

"Nanotechnology is already starting to affect our lives, and it's anticipated that over the next 20 years it's going to have major impact on everything around us," Crone tells DBIS.

Nanotechnology means working at the scale of molecules. Crone's exhibits show just how small that scale is. "When you put nano in front of meter that means that's a billionth of a meter. So that means that you can fit 1 billion nanometers in one meter," she says. You'd have to slice one hair into 50,000 distinct strands to get a strand one-nanometer thick.

Nanotechnology is the secret behind how self-cleaning windows work and why LEDs are so energy-efficient.

"I think that nanotechnology, I mean, everyone continues to talk about it, is the next big thing," says intern Anne Vedder.

It might even save your life. Drug-coated nanoparticles will soon precisely deliver therapy to organs and tumors. Crone says it's going to be everywhere, and you probably won't even know that it's inside the products that you're using.

The National Science Foundation is giving $20 million to fund the national Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network (NISE Network), which will develop interactive exhibits to teach the public about nanotechnology. The network's goal is to have these exhibits in 100 museums across the United States in the next five years.

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