From Nano Car to Nanocar 

Form 1 and 2 members of the Caldwell Society were presented with a challenging talk this afternoon: Nanotechnology, by Dr. Stephen Balding, who teaches Chemistry and is a Resident Tutor at Merchiston.

Nano CarIt all started with the children being asked if they recognised the picture on the right. A few recognised the Nano Car made by Tato in India. It was pointed out that the company wanted to build a car as small and as cheaply as possible. So, for example, only three nuts held the wheels on instead of the usual four. As a result of it being small it was christened a Nano Car, but it is as close to being nano sized as ice cream is to a roaring fire!

A picture was then displayed showing a model of an american astronaut in the eye of a needle. A similar idea is shown below.

Yet even though this is small (and there are other micro sculptures you can see if you Google for them), it is again far too large to be properly nano. Someone has printed a copy of the famous painting 'The Scream' onto the point of a needle. The question, 'What's the point?" comes to mind. Probably because it can be done. But it is still not small enough to be nano.

Here are some measurements you might find useful:
1 millimetre = 1/1000th of a metre (one thousandth of a metre)
1 micron  = 1/1 000 000th of a metre (one millionth of a metre)
1 nano = 1/1 000 000 000th of a metre (one billionth of a metre)

To discover how small nano is you have to burrow down to the atomic level. A great way of seeing how small this is, is to click here and see for yourself. There are many other fascinating clips that you can link to after you've watched this 2 minute video.

Gold-nuggetRed-GoldThis is obvioulsy a gold nugget, by its gold colour, but when you take gold to the nano level and deal with just atoms of the stuff and put them in a liquid they turn red. What?!?

Nanotechnology is manufacturing with atoms and is the next 'big thing' in technology. At such a small level the implications for medical science, for example, is enormous. Back in 1985 Harry Kroto, Robert Curl and Richard Smalley were instrumrental in discovering C60, now called buckminsterfullerine, or the bucky Ball. This nano structure contains 60 carbon atoms and has a shape like that of a football. One of the uses could be to transport medicine that would otherwise cause an allergic reaction, as a package tucked inside the 'buckyball', to the infected site but the 'buckyball' would not cause a reaction.

Five years ago a nanocar was made - not by any car factory but by nanotechnicians.

nanocar The following description comes from

"This smart-looking image is a model of what James M. Tour at Rice University (Texas) and his research team like to call a ‘nanocar’. The clustered molecules can roll around on a glass slide at about nine nanomiles per hour, and its wheels actually turn. The nanocar is no more than 4 nanometers across, which is slightly wider than a strand of DNA. Nanovehicles like these are designed to study the materials and movements, to make it easier for researchers to build more sophisticated molecular machines. Eventually the researchers want to build tiny trucks that could carry atoms and molecules around in miniature factories.

"So in the future, we could have tiny ambulances racing through our veins instead of antibiotics.

"One of the minor details that need to be solved: at room temperature, strong electrical bonds hold the buckyball wheels tightly against the gold, but heating to about 200 degrees Celsius frees them to roll."

iron-atoms-circcleIiron-atomsBM has been very influential in nano research and the children were fascinated by the video of 'A Boy and his Atom'. In addition they were shown pictures of the results of geometric shapes that had been built up using iron atoms - one at a time. This is jaw-dropping stuff and the children were obviously extremely interested and asked some intelligent questions at the end.

There is a wealth of information out there on the Web and if you are interested then start 'Googling'. For a start click on either picture of the iron atoms to discover how Scanning Tunnelling and Scanning Probe Microscopes work.

My thanks to Dr. Stephen Balding for taking the time to come down to Belhaven and deliver a very thought-provoking lecture.

click here to watch video of 'A Boy and his Atom'
click here to watch a full length Documentary on 'Nano Revolution'

David Peek, 09/02/2016