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June 4, 2010

N is for nanotechnology

In 1965, Intel co-founder Gordon E. Moore described a trend that would become known as Moore's Law: that the number of transistors that you can squeeze onto a computer chip would continue to double around every two years. His prediction has proved

By Cbr Rolling Blog

In 1965, Intel co-founder Gordon E. Moore described a trend that would become known as Moore’s Law: that the number of transistors that you can squeeze onto a computer chip would continue to double around every two years. His prediction has proved uncannily accurate, and has been one of the reasons that electronic devices, from computers to digital cameras and phones, have been able to get faster as they have grown smaller.

Comparing the Osborne Executive portable computer from 1982 with an Apple iPhone, for instance, you find that the Osborne is 100 times heavier, 500 times bigger and 10 times more expensive. Yet it has 100th the processing power of Apple’s gizmo.

So will Moore’s Law ever run out of headroom? In recent years, researchers have been pushing the boundaries yet further, using a new discipline called nanotechnology. This means controlling matter on an atomic or molecular scale, generally things which are less than 100 nanometres – that’s one billionth of a meter. If that doesn’t put it in perspective, a sheet of paper is a lardy 100,000 nanometers thick.

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For instance, using nano techniques, Xerox Research recently developed a silver ink which can be printed using an InkJet printer to form circuits that are far more flexible than traditional silicon chips. Meanwhile IBM has been working with the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology on a “nanomembrane” that can filter out salts as well as potentially harmful toxins to purify water.

These are just two examples of the potential nanotechnology holds: researchers are looking at how it could transform medicines, light bulbs, solar cells and even the good old internal combustion engine. Some “nano-foods” are already available, meanwhile: a cooking oil, a tea and a shake called Nanoceuticals Slim Shake Chocolate have all had the nano treatment. The shake, according to US manufacturer RBC Life Sciences, uses cocoa infused “NanoClusters” to enhance the taste and health benefits of cocoa without the need for extra sugar. Heston Blumenthal, take note.

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