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Nanotechnology is a science that spans many research disciplines, from various engineering arenas to materials science, and many of the life and physical sciences, such as physics, chemistry, and molecular biology. This makes it a diverse source of potential consumer nanotechnology products, industrial machinery and coatings, and medical devices. As of 2011, nanotechnology research has been used to create everything from treatments for cancer with no side effects to stain-proof pants to paint jobs for cars that appear to never get dirty.
Nanotechnology education attempts to focus on a broad understanding of science and engineering disciplines, though the core fields for research and development tend to be focused in three areas. The field has direct applications to nanotechnology products in silicon engineering and microchip production to make computer systems smaller and faster with more memory and greater reliability. It also focuses directly on the field of medical research into treatments for many genetic and environmentally-caused diseases, as well as providing new types of medical implants and devices to treat various injuries and degenerative conditions. Molecular nanotechnology is also centered in materials science research to develop nanotechnology products for everything from better body armor for soldiers to solar cells made from flexible plastic to injectable gold nanospheres for arthritis and cancer treatments.
A nanotechnology company can be anything from a division of a large petroleum producer to a small firm with a handful of employees who make carbon nanotubes for micro-electromechanical sensors (MEMs) 1,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. The market for any nanotechnology application largely determines if it will be built and to what scale of quantity, as many nanotechnology prototypes produced by government, private, or academic labs never make it outside of the laboratory. Producing one nanotechnology prototype is much easier and often decades away from refining a manufacturing process to make thousands of the same product to an established level of quality. This is why medicine, computers, and materials science are the major areas producing nanotechnology products, as they are often heavily funded to solve problems that have ever-increasing demands in society.
Research into nanotechnology products spans both the mundane and exotic end of the spectrum of the needs of modern industrialized society. Nanotechnology has been used to make everything from tennis balls that don't go flat to better superconductor materials for applications in nuclear fusion research. Scientists are actively pursuing methods of making carbon nanotube cables with nanotechnology that could be used to make a space elevator, carrying people and cargo from the surface of the Earth to orbit at a fraction of the cost of rocket systems. Prototypes for self-replicating nanobot machines could also be tasked with cleaning up oil spills, recycling household garbage at a molecular level into useful materials such as clothing or fuel, or nanobots could float in the human blood stream and repair cell damage to slow the aging process.
Many of these nanotechnology products are in the prototype and conceptual stage, yet all major industrialized nations are investing heavily into nanotechnology research. Thousands of nanotechnology products are already on the shelves in consumer outlets, and many common consumer products have been updated with coatings or materials engineered at a nano level. The science has been labeled as the second Industrial Revolution for civilization, but it is a slow, gradual revolution that is taking place largely unnoticed by the everyday shopper.
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