- Feature Stories
- News Flash
- Inspire Innovation
Why the Next Big Thing Won’t Be Big
The next big thing in science will come from very small things.
Things that measure a billionth of a meter or less.
That is the tiny, yet infinite, realm of nanotechnology, a hybrid of chemistry and engineering that uses chemical and mechanical tools to manipulate atoms and molecules. Scientists are using it to build things from the bottom up. The way vegetables build themselves with atoms from dirt, water and air.
Someday, nanorobots may perform delicate surgeries a thousand times more precisely than scalpels, or be ingested to attack viruses. They may also alter appearance and slow or reverse the aging process. Tiny machines building food atom by atom might even wipe out world famine, scientists predict.
This “science of the very tiny” is the basis of an extraordinary collaboration between Carnegie Mellon University, the federal government and industry. This and other collaborations are happening all over campus and becoming models for fast-tracking research into the marketplace.
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon’s Data Storage Systems Center (DSSC) are working closely with industry and the federal government to exploit nanotechnology in order to create a revolution, not only in information storage, but also in a wide variety of fields.
“Think about what happens when you download and store software today,” said Ed Schlesinger, head of the DSSC, which is part of the university’s engineering college. “You’re rearranging the material structure on your disk by changing the physical properties of clumps of molecules. If the guts of a computer were no larger than a few of those clumps, you could rearrange molecules on the recording medium to essentially build chips. This is the strength of information storage technology in the nanotech arena, since, in information storage, we rely on the ability to address and manipulate individual nanoscale objects.
“Someday soon, we could essentially download hardware from the Internet just like we download software today,” Schlesinger said.
New systems could be developed that physically reproduce some hardware downloads. One concept, part of the efforts in probe recording within the DSSC, is to make a read/write head from a cluster of ultra sharp points to nudge atoms and molecules this way or that. Other efforts include the manipulation of light at nanoscale dimensions, or the manipulation of the magnetic or physical state of various materials at these same dimensions.
At the same time, the data storage industry is pushing for the increased use of nanotechnology to develop systems that can store one terabit per square inch or more. That kind of information storage capacity would make it possible to store a small black-and-white image of every man, woman and child on earth on a CD-sized disk.(Continued …)