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Nanotechnology – What is it?

This article by the Institute of Nanotechnology in Stirling, Scotland, succinctly defines the increasingly important field of nanotechnology, which encompasses precision engineering, electronics, electromechanical systems and biomedical applications such as drug delivery.

'Nanospeak' terminology such as 'top-down' versus 'bottom-up' approaches (that is, machining and etching materials versus building structures atom by atom) is explained. The multidisciplinary nature of the field is also outlined: uniquely among high-tech disciplines, nanotechnology brings materials scientists and mechanical and electronics engineers together with biologists, physicists and chemists.

Glenn McGee, associate director of the University of Pennsylvania Center for Bioethics in the United States, has contributed a section on the ethical and social issues that are emerging as the field grows. These range from creating new life forms, and mixing genetic material from different species, to integrating humans with machines via 'smart' pacemakers and the like, and developing nanomachines that trawl our bloodstreams. He concludes that the size of many problems will make many decisions on nanotechnology spending "troubling".

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