The Nano Issue


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Mother London

Coined little over 20 years ago, the term ‘nano’ has exponentially grown in scientific publications and research, with its potential for revolutionary applications ranging far and wide. Its connotations have even permeated spurious marketing nomenclature with the success of products such the ipod ‘nano’. A true nanometer however, strictly speaking, is 1 billionth of a meter. Very small indeed.  Here we have a look at where those crazy boffins have been taking this new aspect of science


Nano Adverts

It is genuinely nauseating the emptiness with which we all talk about innovation as some sort of elixir that will grant everlasting life to any brand in the world. “We need to innovate” say the toilet roll makers. 


“Cutting edge technology that will clean arses faster and more efficiently than ever before”. 
IBM is one of a handful of household names that actually operate at the forefront of the possible and the theoretical. Recently they made the world’s smallest movie, using mere atoms to set in motion the shape of a stick figure bouncing a ball around. Things that are both entertaining and of genuine scientific value are few and far between. 


In the making of the movie, an IBM-er explains that they’ve worked out that data storage can take place in a structure of as little as 12 atoms, compared to the millions used in today’s data storage. This could mean that rather than storing a handful of movies on your phone, you could store every movie ever made. This is an example where we should sparingly use the word innovation. Adding a lavender scent to bog-roll and describing it as innovative is comparatively rather insulting.



Science As Art

The snappily named Materials Research Society has a biannual competition called Science as Art


These neon hedgehogs are in fact nano structures of zinc oxide particles, taken through the lens of a scanning electron microscope. The vivid colours have been added afterwards. It was awarded first prize for “its power to reveal visually how the rough surface of a microsphere can affect the growth of crystals” The second bit doesn’t make much sense to me, but the beauty is certainly there. 


With the ability to manipulate and capture complex and minute structures at a quantum level, photography on a nano scale opens up an undiscovered world of beauty and creative opportunity.



Getting Mice Smashed

Not one for the chaps at PETA, but some scientists at UCLA have been using nanotechnology as an excuse to get mice pissed. 


Once shit-faced (the mice that is) the scientists inject them with nanocapsules that contain a payload of enzymes that break down the alcohol.
This reduces the detectable level in the blood to that of the control group. The end product, once rigorous inebriation of mice is deemed sufficient, is most likely to take the form of an alcohol prophylactic, namely a pill that stops you from getting out of your tree. In essence, it will provide you with millions of little liver cells, each speeding up the alcohol metabolism. 


So, if you have a boss who attaches a premium to the ability to drink vast vats of booze, simply drop one of these and watch them collapse around you. Of course, the uses of this type of nanocapsule extend beyond liquor disposal and into areas as world-changing as targeting tumours to more cosmetic uses such as treating hair loss.




Superhydrophobic refers to any surface that repels water. 


In the last year or so, there have been a number of new products using nanotechnology that can coat just about any surface so that water literally runs away from it. You can put a glove into a tub of oil and it will emerge bone dry with not a smidge of grease on it.


Muddy wellies, damp coats, windscreen wipers may all now be a thing of the past. The material is made from silicon carbide nanowires, tiny surface particles that pull air down around them, and stopping water from permeating. Check out some of its awesome applications.



Willard Wigan.

Not quite nano, but British micro-sculptor Willard Wigan may have just created the world’s smallest piece of art. 


Using a piece of hollowed out stubble hair and flakes of gold, he has created a sculpture of a motorbike smaller than a human blood cell, measuring at 3 microns. In a process that lasted five weeks, Willard worked in between his own heartbeats as even the pulse in his finger could have destroyed the sculpture. 


Ordinarily he works within the thread of a needle, slowing his heartbeat and controlling his nervous system to reduce the risk of any tremors. More often than not, he uses the hair of a dead housefly to paint his creations.