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What Can Nanotechnology Do For You?

Western Carolina University Professor Mary Anna LaFratta recently challenged her motion graphics students to create short animations about something so small you can’t see it – even with a conventional microscope. They needed to illustrate nanotechnology: science, engineering, and technology at the nanoscale—from one to one hundred nanometers. Nano means “billionth” and a nanometer is a billionth of a meter. How small is a billionth of a meter? A baseball bat is about a meter; a nanometer is about the length your fingernail grew while you were reading the last four words of this sentence.

This project spans science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics (STEAM). The animation scripts came from nanotechnology experts who helped the animation students to understand what they were depicting. Professors and students from the School of Art and Design and the School of Music collaborated to compose music, record narration, and build animations. STEAM isn’t just a personal passion for LaFratta who has worked on “STEAM projects before STEAM was STEAM,” but because “visualizing STEM concepts is an area in which students could direct their graphic design careers.”

Student animator Justin Warren admitted that before creating "Nanotechnology: What Can it Do for You?" he "didn’t know much at all about nanotechnology."  Now, he says, “I really find the uses of nanotechnology to be incredible and I think this technology is going to be the most effective way for almost everything.”

Watch the first of a three part series of student animations.

So, could nanotechnology really help make invisibility cloaks, bulletproof t-shirts, and nano-tattoos a reality? 

Metamaterials can bend light around an object the way water in a stream moves around a rock. By controlling light at the nanoscale scientists have hidden micron-sized bumps. Now they just need to make something big enough you can throw it over yourself to hide from the paparazzi.

Graphene and carbon nanotubes are stronger than steel but also really light. Graphene can even stop a micro-bullet (Iron Man already uses it in his armor), now scientists are developing bullet proof protection that’s as light and comfy as your favorite t-shirt.

What if a diabetic could monitor glucose levels constantly without having to draw blood? Scientists have made nanotechnology-enabled tattoo inks that could continuously detect glucose levels and signal changes. Researchers are also creating temporary nano-tattoos that could monitor your blood pressure, heart rate - even brain waves.

If you want to learn more about nanotechnology, visit nano.gov and keep on the lookout for the other student animations. The next videos in the series include “How Will Nanotechnology Improve Your Health?” which introduces some of the amazing ways nanotechnology will be used in medicine and “How can Nanotechnology Save Energy?” which illustrates how nanomaterials will help cut emissions and fossil fuel use.

Discover more Science Matters videos on Nanotechnology:

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Article by: Dr. Quinn Spadola, AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow in the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office