What is nanotechnology? - Why is nanotechnology Important? - How is nanotechnology used today?

How is nanotechnology used today?

New products incorporating nanotechnology are coming out every day.

Nanotechnology isn't science fiction. It's already in use today. Lots of products being manufactured today involve some type of nanotechnology, only it's often not identified as such. Furthermore, some existing applications have been forced into the realm of nanotechnology in order to improve performance. Thus there are really two tracks of nanotechnology development. The first, and considerably larger nanotechnology track, involves existing products and applications that are running headlong into the transition from conventional materials to quantum materials. These industries include integrated circuits, disk drives, and optics. To some of the people in these industries, they're already doing nanotechnology whether they like it or not. Some people have labeled this "old nanotechnology" because it's really applying a new label to an existing industry.

The second nanotechnology track is much smaller and is based on starting with quantum materials from the outset, and trying to find applications for them. Often these are small start up firms, but larger industrial powerhouses are also spending research dollars in this area. While established products are considered "old nanotechnology", quantum materials are occasionally identified as "new nanotechnology".

Since there are really two paths for nanotechnology running concurrently, it's not surprising that there's a great deal of confusion as to what is actually meant by nanotechnology. Even the people in the field don't agree on things such as the size of the market or the likely technological developments. Hence it's hard to come up with a definition of nanotechnology that satisfies everyone, which is probably why there is so much confusion surrounding the industry.

Existing Nanotechnology Applications

As noted above, there are really two tracks for nanotechnology at this point in time. While these lists aren't necessarily exhaustive, they should help define the scope of nanotechnology's impact. Existing applications which are being forced into the nanotechnology realm include:
  • chip manufacture. All current generation chips have to deal with some quantum properties such as tunneling.
  • disk drives. Price/performance of magnetic storage media has hit a plateau.
  • optical switches. Although the telecommunications bubble has burst, parts of the infrastructure already use optical switches. It's arguable that this industry has used some form of micro/nano technology from the outset.
Some new nanotechnology applications are based on using quantum materials from the outset:
  • Sunscreens and cosmetics
  • Some conductive polymers
  • Batteries
  • Defense related coatings
  • Research chemicals
Obviously, the "old nanotechnology" market is much larger than the "new" nanotechnology market. Here is where it pays to be cautious regarding irrationally exuberant growth rates. Large mature industries do not have the double digit growth rates of newly established industries gaining traction. While some applications of "new nanotechnology" will no doubt show strong growth rates exceeding 15% AAGR (or higher), it is doubtful if mature industries will show such growth. Thus, any estimate of nanotechnology markets at several billion dollars already and forecast to grow at 20-30% AAGR should be examined with a very skeptical eye.

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