On December 4, 2009 Scientists at National Physical Laboratory in the UK revealed the world’s smallest snowman and created a youtube video holiday card with it. It’s a beautiful and funny demonstration of what can be done at sub-visible scales, but also illustrates one of the key problems of nanotech. To be truly beneficial, nanotechnology must produce results that affect human lives, and it is rare that a single nano-event can do that. That means nanotechnology devices must be produced in huge quantities for most applications, and that certainly won’t be possible with the techniques that produced the tiny snowman. That is why a lot of research is being done into molecular self-assembly.
One example is this work being done at The University of Illinois, in which capillary action is used to bend nano-thin silicon in an origami-like process. Other interesting work on self-assembly is going on also at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, who released an article describing some of their results in this area. (Wish I had more time to spend on this technology – anyone need a highly skilled project manager with past careers in computer engineering, high tech product development, and technical documentation?)
I dream of paint-on solar cells and other active-coating applications. The components might be painted on in successive coats, the order of coatings and post-painting treatments with light or heat possibly critical, before the end product, a solar cell for example, would be in place, ready for the connection of electrodes to draw off the power. I want this for my house, like, yesterday.