Josh Davies (PhD researcher at Cardiff University in Wales, UK) has written a Feb. 15, 2017 essay for The Conversation which does a good job of describing some nanotechnology-enabled or, as he prefers, nanoscience-enabled advances,
Russian author Boris Zhitkov wrote the 1931 short story Microhands, in which the narrator creates miniature hands to carry out intricate surgeries. And while that was nearly 100 years ago, the tale illustrates the real fundamentals of the nanoscience researchers are working on today.
Nanoscience is the study of molecules that are one billionth of a metre in size. To put this into perspective, a human hair is between 50,000 and 100,000 nanometres thick. At this tiny size, materials possess properties that lie somewhere between a lump of metal and that of a single atom. This unique environment means they can become very reactive and be used as catalysts.
The ideas behind nanoscience are often easier to understand when considered simply in terms of how a single material’s properties change. But the field is not limited to just that: we are now moving into the realm of healthcare therapies, and vehicles smaller than a speck of dust. What were once regarded as science fictions are rapidly becoming fact.
In video games like Bioware’s Mass Effect, players are able to heal characters’ injuries with the seemingly miraculous medi-gel. Though it may not give you the unlimited life or epic adventure that a video game can, there is a real-life gel that can similarly stop an arterial bleed in seconds.
“Veti-gel” is made of polysaccharide polymers found in the cell walls of plants which, when applied to wounds, can mimic the structure of the extracellular matrix – the complex web in which cells sit. The gel essentially acts as scaffolding for the matrix to reform, pulling it back together and stopping bleeding without any pressure.
This is the first time I have seen Zhitkov and his short story cited as part of the nanotechnology story; here in North American it’s usually Waldo by Robert Heinlein and published in 1942, which associated with nanotechnology. It too prominently features miniature hands.
Davies’ essay is a good introduction to nanotechnology for those who prefer to learn about practical applications rather than theory.
I checked out the Vetigel story and found that it’s produced by Cresilon and is only available for use in animals.
h/t Fast Company