Nanotechnology – Small really is beautiful

Published 26th March 2014

Written by: Willy Adam

Trying to keep up with the latest advances in technologies can be a daunting and never-ending quest, and it is often tempting to take stock and try to understand what we have, rather than chase the latest development or trend. In my house I’m last in line to inherit the hand-me-down phone or tablet and while I constantly urge myself to keep up with what’s next, I sometimes take refuge in what I’ve got and what works for me.

Then I go and research some emerging technologies and associated gadgets and suddenly I’m feeling a need to belong to a different future and not get left behind (again).

Looking at some of the developing (and already developed) products using nanotechnology opens up some quite astonishing areas and can provide students with the inspiration they need to take their product design ideas that step further.

Try thinking about how flies’ feet grip to enable them to walk on ceilings; super strong conductive materials that become paper thin computers or the basis of new stronger, lighter micro-structures; the many possibilities in how new liquid repelling treatments for fabrics, stone etc might be used. Then what about micro robots ‘living in’ and reporting back from the bloodstream, bionic eyes and ears, an invisibility cloak?!

Of course some of this is a little scary, with surveillance and military applications apparently dominating, and it might have the effect of generating even more technophobia than before. You may not expect your students to go on to grow artificial ears or make a knat-sized robot, but a short time searching for nanotechnology products in Pintrest or YouTube will inspire some unexpected product design outcomes that also tie into biomimicry and other science and STEM subjects as well.

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