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Whats that nano-thing?
[March 21, 2010]

Whats that nano-thing?

(Jordan Times, The Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) By Jean-Claude Elias Always more gigabyte storage on hard disk, more power in processors and more memory capacity in the same physical space. How do they do it? Especially that they also make it always less expensive.

The secret is called nanotechnology. For the consumer it may appear like someone is trying hard to push, to compress things manually so that they can keep fitting more in the same space.

Like for example when you use hand muscle to press, to squeeze more pairs of socks in a drawer that is already full of them! Reality, of course is different.

The IT industry does not achieve stunning results because it exerts more effort or tries harder to do better, using the same technology. The fact is that every few years someone comes with truly innovating techniques.

Now and then the scientific world is the scene of quiet but significant revolutions, of breakthroughs, of inventions that not everyone in the wide public is aware of.

Nanotechnology and one of its offshoots, spintronics, are behind some of the most spectacular recent progress in computer-related applications and way beyond. Nanotechnology is quickly changing the world of cosmetics, car making, health, toys, sports and many others.

A nanometre is equal to one billionth of a metre, or one millionth of a millimetre. By any standard, even in the realm of microelectronics this is very, very small. Nanotechnology is based on the special properties that objects and matter acquire at this invisible scale. Take an electric wire for instance.

If its resistance is 100 Ohms and its weight 100 grammes for a length of 10 metres, then you expect it to have a resistance of 10 Ohms and a weight of 10 grammes for a length of 1 metre. At a nanometric scale, however, these simple rules of proportionality do not apply anymore.

The electric wire would have developed physical properties that obey totally different rules. It will behave differently. In a way these differences are in the same as between traditional physics and quantum physics.

These exceptional properties and matter behaviour now allow researchers, designers and manufacturers to come up with devices that outperform anything seen before. A pocket-size, fast hard disk drive capable of storing 1 TB (terabyte) of data at less than $200 was absolutely unthinkable only five years ago. Nanotechnology is what makes it possible.

New cosmetics developed thanks to nanotechnologies and that are much more penetrating inside the skin already are on the market. Physicists have only started to exploit the amazing properties of the nano world.

Mobile phones and portable digital music players made after 2008 are benefiting from this new foray in science, a foray at the edge of science fiction. Besides, some of Apples portable music players are called Nano iPods; not without a good reason. Research in advanced physics and nanotechnologies has led Albert Fert to bring about spintronics, the very technology that is putting in our hand today extraordinary computer hard disk drives.

Fert is head of a research division at the French CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique) and was rightly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2007 for taking spintronics to new limits.

Large capacity disk drives are based on GMR (Giant Magneto Resistance), a direct consequence of spintronics. In as little as three to six years from now, and specifically in the IT field, we will be seeing not only hard disks with mammoth-size storage, but also computer screens with a kind of resolution, size, thinness and flexibility that we cannot even dream of today. All this thanks to the brilliant minds behind nanotechnologies.

(c) 2010 The Jordan Times. All rights reserved. Provided by an company

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