Nanotechnology

June 11, 2004 • Volume 14, Issue 22
Does it pose environmental and health risks?
By David Masci

Introduction

Some nanotechnology visionaries predict that molecule-size machines like this computer-generated example some day will be used as sensors injected into a patient's bloodstream to detect new disease or monitor a chronic condition.  (Foresight Institute)
Some nanotechnology visionaries predict that molecule-size machines like this computer-generated example some day will be used as sensors injected into a patient's bloodstream to detect new disease or monitor a chronic condition. (Foresight Institute)

The future of nanotechnology — the science of creating molecule-size machines and materials — holds mind-boggling possibilities, according to proponents. Microscopic nanosensors someday will monitor criminals and detect chemical weapons. Nanobots, or tiny machines, will clean up toxic wastes, conduct surveillance, perform surgery and deliver drugs to targeted sites inside the body. Many products that use nanotechnology are already a reality, including dramatically faster computer chips and non-staining, wrinkle-free clothing. Some scientists warn, however, that the technology poses environmental and health risks, especially from easily ingested nanoparticles. Others worry that nanotechnology's potential is being over-hyped to investors. But advocates say the technology can be developed with proper safeguards and that it eventually could trigger the world's next Industrial Revolution, render oil obsolete and transform medical care.

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