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Tuesday, February 22, 2005

What's a friggin' Nano?

The fact is most people wander around having no idea how anything works. Whether you're talking about how computers process info, how television screens show colors, how shirts are made, (woven? sewn? I don't even know the friggin' word?) people know nada. Transplant a medieval serf who made a living bringing out the dead during the plague to today's world, and the difference between him and Joe Shchmo is- Joe Shchmo doesn't CARE that he doesn't know how that technology crap works- and medieval body-gatherer-boy, once the wonder wore off, wouldn't care that he didn't know how that magic stuff works, and, by the way, do you have any dead people you need transported?

Having said that- I like to kid myself that I have a grasp of the general, technology wise, to go along with my mastery of the obvious, political wise.

This illusion was difficult to maintain because of nanotechnology. Upon reading the words nano(whatever, there are like a million of them-nanotechnology, nanobot, nanobudweiser, nanoheineken) my brain shut down like Michael Moore when the buffet closes. Until today, that is. From this article at The New York Times.

Nanotechnology, nanoparticles and all of the other nano words derive from nanometer, a billionth of a meter, or about one 25-millionth of an inch. That is far smaller than the world of everyday objects described by Newton's laws of motion, but bigger than an atom or a simple molecule, particles ruled by quantum mechanics.

A nanoparticle, an object with a width of a few nanometers to a few hundred, contains tens to thousands of atoms and exists in a realm that straddles the quantum and the Newtonian.

...This in-between realm gives rise to an unusual physics where the properties of a material change depending on its size. At the quantum level, one gold atom acts like any other gold atom, and a nugget of gold large enough to hold has the same chemical and electrical properties as another nugget. But two nanoparticles, both made of pure gold, can exhibit markedly different behavior - different melting temperature, different electrical conductivity, different color - if one is larger than the other.

Now you, like me, can feel confident that you know more than Joe Schmo and the medieval body-gathering-serf-boy combined. And it feels good, you know, to have an idea about what makes these Nanos so special. To feel like you can bullchit along with the rest of the bullchitters when nanos come up during casual conversation. Of course we don't really know how the stuff works, but the details are best left to wizards, warlocks, sorcerers etc.


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