Solid objects that are invisible to the naked eye, powering devices with your own sweat, reversible adhesion that will enable devices to be attached to anything, anywhere – these were some of the ideas discussed by University of Auckland senior lecturer, Dr Michelle Dickinson, in her hour-long session on nanotechnology at Microsoft’s TechEd 2014.
“The marketplace today is selling a lot of old stuff, and we are buying it because that is the only thing around. There is so much more that we can do with nanotechnology that is possible, but does not make marketing sense to display or sell,” said Dickinson during her speech.
Standing in front of a packed Skycity Theatre audience in Auckland, Dickinson explained nanotechnology to be work on elements at a tiny scale. She demonstrated some of the things that are enabled by nanotechnology today, while tracing her own history and drive in forming NZ’s only nanomechanical laboratory.
“Today, we can make metamaterial that makes light go around devices rather than be reflected by them. We can cloak devices like that. We have nanofluids that will prove to be the next big cooling technology in most smart devices. I talked about the water cooling in the Surface Pro 3 yesterday in my keynote. Pfft! Nanofluids will be the way of the future,” she said.
Device coatings, superhydrophobicity, which makes surfaces highly difficult to get damp, reversible adhesion and bio-batteries are all possible today, according to Dickinson.
“I worked on reversible adhesion by watching geckos and imitating the nano hairs that they have on their limbs. These nano hairs enable devices to be attached to any number of surfaces and you can take them off again. Think about that. You don’t need tape anymore. You can attach whatever device you want to anything you want.
"Bio-batteries are also possible. Much like temporary tattoos attach to your skin, your sweat can be used to power devices. Imagine what that can mean for the likes of pacemakers. They can be powered with your body for as long as you need,” said Dickinson.
Speaking about nanotechnology for the future, Dickinson talked about some of the work that she is currently doing in her lab in NZ.
“I am currently studying how brain cells go astray and stop communicating. This is what happens in the case of diseases like Alzheimers. Nanotechnology will be able to help. I am also engaged in looking to areas where nanotechnology can become hunters. Nano particles can be constructed and injected into the body, after which they find and bond only with cancer cells. Once they have done so, light can be shone through to heat these nano particles, and in heating they will kill the cells they are attached to. This affects only the cancer cells. What does that mean? I don’t see chemotherapy as an option for long,” she said.
For all its capabilities though, nanotechnology is not yet at a stage where there are little animated robots with arms and legs walking around.
“Will nanobots take over the world one day? Yes. But they don’t exist today. All we have currently are inanimate nanotechnology,” said Dickinson.
Her highly interactive session was part of the second day of Microsoft’s TechEd 2014 taking place in Auckland this year. The four-day event will bring together around 2000 IT developers, tinkerers, vendors and partners to discuss the latest developments in Microsoft and its technologies.