All Hail the Nanites

Nanites, Nanobots, Nanoids, Nanomachines…whatever you call them they’re amazing, magical, and have captured the science fiction world by storm. But what are they, exactly, and why are they only just now being used to magically heal, kill, or enhance heroes, villains, and entire races alike?

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Nanotechnology is a field of science conceived of by Richard Feynman in 1959, but didn’t come into it’s own until the early 21st century with the discovery of buckyballs and, shortly after, graphene. Nanotechnology is, in plain english, technology conducted on the nanometre scale. And a nanometre is one billionth of a metre—the next smallest thing after a micrometre.

The invention of the microscope was revolutionary in the 19th century, transforming our understanding of botany, biology, medicine and impacting every scientific field of the day in ways no one could have foretold. Suddenly there was more to our world than just what could meet the eye—suddenly we could actually see cells, the building blocks that made up every organic thing in the universe.

The discovery of the nanotechnology will be equally impacting to our society. Suddenly mere cells are large and bulky when compared with building block so tiny that entire machines can be created out of them, and sent into the bloodstream to work with precision that could never be achieved by human hands or human tools.

nanoroboticsNanites, or nanobots are they are sometimes called, is the concept of robots built on the nanometre level—so tiny that more microscopes cannot see them. Injected into the bloodstream they can clear blood clots. While we are still decades away from creating such machines, we are more than capable of imagining the capabilities. Imagine surgery done without incisions, directed from a computer console like we direct robotic aircraft or missiles. Imagine scans conducted without intrusive methods—a million tiny pictures taken by a million tiny machines working on your behalf and transmitting their information back to human doctors.

Imagine having little robots that pay close attention to things like blood pressure, respiration, and heart rate—anticipating heart attacks or strokes in time to prevent them, far superior to any current monitoring system because they have an inside perspective—literally. Is it any wonder that science fiction writers of today envision the warriors of tomorrow all being equipped with their own army of personal, invisible servants, ready to heal, regenerate, monitor, filter and otherwise assist the body in doing everything it’s already prepared to do, but seems to execute ineffeciantly?

In the future minor wounds will appear to heal themselves instantly, poisons and toxins will be ineffective, stress and nervousness can be controlled instantly, and the survival rate of normally fatal accidents will decrease due to the intervention of our little machines.

vantablackBeyond the medical applications, nanotechnology is changing our world in other, unexpected ways. We’ve created new material that surpasses diamonds in being the hardest material in the world. Just recently the invention of vantablack was announced—the blackest material in the world. It absorbs 99.98% of all light, which means, essentially, that it cannot be seen.

The only thing still holding us back is the difficulty of manufacturing these new materials affordably in large quantities. It is very difficult to get large quantities of carbon nanotubes outside of the lab. But, as with all scientific advancements, it’s only a matter of time. The implications then are staggaring. The longest standing argument against building a space elevator is that no material exists that could even hold its own weight at those lengths. But with stronger materials being continually invented such an invention becomes less unlikely every day.

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What else might be possible?

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