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5 Advances in Molecular Nanotechnology

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by: Bambi Turner
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The carbon nanotube seen in this artist's rendering is less than two nanometers in diameter -- that's 50,000 times thinner than a human hair.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

What if scientists could create tiny robots that travel through the body to repair damaged cells, snuff out viruses or fix broken bones? It may sound far-fetched, but with a cutting-edge science known as molecular nanotechnology, scientists may actually able to meet these goals, and perform even greater feats that may seem unbelievable to non-scientists.

Nanotechnology is the science of modifying objects at the atomic or molecular level. Professionals in this field measure items in terms of nanometers, which is equal to one-billionth of a meter. To put that in perspective, a single human hair measures about 100,000 nanometers wide [source: Environment News Service]. Using nanotechnology, scientists build objects molecule-by-molecule, resulting in near-perfect products that far surpass any existing objects in terms of performance, effectiveness and longevity.

While this may seem like a highly specialized field, there are many more people involved in nanotechnology research than you may think. The U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative was granted a $1.5 billion budget in 2009, and the budget was increased to $1.76 billion for 2010 [source: National Nanotechnology Initiative]. Clearly, nanotechnology, in all forms, is big business in the United States and around the world.

This futuristic field of science actually dates back to 1959, though most of the major advances in nanotechnology have come in the past two decades. Today, you probably come across nanotechnology in the form of composite materials like dental implants or baseball bats. This technology also helps manufacturers make your favorite electronics smaller more portable. But the most exciting applications of this technology have come in breakthroughs made in recent years, as scientists have developed ways to apply nanotechnology to fields like medicine, robotics and the environment.

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