When someone says “nanotechnology” to me, I get very Star Trekkie.
My ears begin to taper elvishly. My eyebrows arch inquisitively. I embrace a peculiar affection for sticking my head into an upturned bowl. I develop a fondness for soaring arias and cavorting with semi-clad women of an arable hue.
But I have been corrupted by an unnatural relationship with television in my youth.
Nanotechnology is, in fact, a very real and viable area of research that has produced some intriguing working examples.
Specifically, research in nanotechnology addresses tiny atomic machinery mere nanometres across, where a few individual atoms (one nanometre is a billionth of a metre, or about six carbon atoms long) are precisely assembled in simple structures or to glean very exact chemical reactions. Results so far include tiny molecular motors that can drive a propeller, and nanowires that can conduct electricity.
The potential is unlimited, with fanciful notions such as tiny autonomous medical robots able to perform the most precise of surgeries by being actually injected into the body. (Remember Fantastic Voyage? Like that but with nano-bots instead of Raquel Welch.)
In pursuance of this exciting field, last month the Australian National Fabrication Facility unveiled its new $63 million Melbourne Centre for Nanofabrication. Features include the largest clean room in the Southern Hemisphere.
Richard Marles, Federal Parliamentary Secretary for Innovation and Industry opened the site:
“This $63 million facility will position Australia at the cutting edge of R&D and in a prime position to become a world leader in commercial nanotechnology.
“It is a joint effort with the Australian and Victorian Governments and a consortium comprising Monash, Deakin, La Trobe, Melbourne and Swinburne universities, RMIT, CSIRO and MiniFab Australia Pty Ltd all contributing funds.
“The centre will be open to researchers, from Australia and overseas, and to industry.
“The clean room will allow scientists to work with materials at the microscopic level to produce the next generation of technology.
“These facilities are highly collaborative in nature, enabling excellent research and the translation of research outcomes into national benefit.”
Sensible words. Although it is regrettable that not once did the Parliamentary Secretary describe nanotechnology in a way that us Trekkies might appreciate. After could be described as, “It’s life Jim. But not as we know it.”
Stefan Abrutat is an award-winning freelance writer, blogger and editor in a wide variety of fields, from sports to science, the philosophy of science, humourism, history, travel and food. Image by TheAlieness GiselaGiardino²³ (Gisela Giardino)