As technology enters the close of the first decade this millennium,
nanotechnology becomes increasingly more important in product development.
Processors, chipsets, memory, displays and other electronics are marching toward
the use of nanotech at and astonishing rate. In the U.S., we're already
developing technology manufactured at the nanometer and sub-nanometer
Carbon nanotubes, a high strength and versatile material composed of molecular
configurations of pure carbon, may be the key to next generation technology in
everything from the
space elevator to high-speed processors.
DailyTech previously reported that future Seagate hard drives may be
lubricated by nanotubes. Weeks later MIT researchers released a report that
claimed new nanotube-type
batteries could be recharged in seconds and hold charges much longer than
conventional rechargeable batteries.
But outside of research, nanotech is here already. Research advocates have
identified more than 400 consumer products in the U.S. labeled as
"nano-based." Some of these products, like microprocessors,
pose relatively little risk to consumer, but the long term effects of other
products like nano-aerosols is a bit less understood. Additionally, the
manufacturing by-products of these products are completely unregulated or
Nanotech and the production of nano-based devices create a type of pollution
that is so small, it is extremely difficult to detect or contain. Researchers
are afraid of the effect that nanopollution might have on humans, animals and
other living organisms.
Nanoparticles are so small that they easily penetrate cells, a handy technique
when geneticists attempt to modify genes when done intentionally. However, even
when deliberate, the body detects foreign objects and creates phagocytes to
break down invading material. Of course, if the body's phagocytes are busy
digesting nanoparticles, the cells can't break down bacteria or other debris
inside the body. Quantum dots, or nanoparticles used for semiconductors, are so
small that they will actually pass right through cell walls -- yet we have
relatively little research on what occurs when quantum dots interact with the
DailyTech previously reported on carbon nanotubes and the
possible effect on the human respiratory system -- a place where nanotubes
has already been documented to cause problems in significant quantities.
But nano-related health hazards aren't the only worries; environmental problems
pose equal hazards. Michael Moffitt, vice president of environmental
services for Western Technologies, is concerned about the future of
nanopollution, and describes nanotech as "a double-edged sword," to during a
presentation at the Semiconductor Environmental Safety Association
convention held in 2005.
The problem researchers have today is determining whether or not nanopollutants
behave the same in the natural environment as other common waste
Maynard, one of the few advocates for nanotechnology research with regard
to occupational health, has issued a call for national awareness of
nanotechnology interactions on the nanoproject.org
portal. "The good news is that international concern over how to
ensure safe nanotech workplaces has resulted in some progress. The bad news is
that critical questions about worker safety -- and about broader environmental,
human health and safety issues -- remain unanswered," Maynard claims.
Researchers at Rice University Center for Biological and Environmental
Nanotechnology are currently investigating possible means of treating
nano-waste products before they are released into the environment. While
experimenting with fullerenes or buckyballs composed of C60 carbon
nanoparticles, researchers found that it was not possible to dispose of
nano-waste using traditional means. But never mind attempts at disposal, the
few researchers involved with buckyball research are actually still debating on
whether or not fullerenes are even hazardous to organisms.
The terms "nanopollution" and "nanowaste" will become ever
more popular as the decade comes to a close. On a global scale, current
technology already has a number of ecological
problems such as dumping and e-waste, and the ugly side nano-tech make its
appearance sooner than later if we're not vigilant.
quote: To illustrate his point, Campos refers to another study that appears in the April 20 issue of JAMA. That study showed that heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking have declined in all BMI categories in the last 40 years.