iGEM corner: Future Talk

Pipe Dreams


Article four (August 2002):


by Mete Oner


Geo-Nano-Technology (GNT)

Nano-technology (nano-science and engineering) is the cutting edge of science and engineering today, at the beginning of the 21st Century. This was perhaps inspired by the nano-probes of the Borg in Star-Trek or vice versa. The idea is simple though not obvious: to employ the molecule-scale phenomena to accomplish some of the things we humans want to do at our scale (the molecular events occur at nano-meter scale, hence the name). Applications are being visualized in various fields already. In the near future, dust particle size electronics, sensors, even molecule sized "machines" will enter our lives, doing things that are now science fiction.

If you are thinking "isn't using bentonite in a slurry wall using nano-tech?" you would be right. In that application, we are indeed utilizing a molecule-scale phenomenon (which occurs in nano-scale) known as the double-layer theory to control the behavior of clay particles in order to to affect what we want to accomplish at our large scale. So, we have been using nano-tech in geotech, all this time! The idea here is to extend this basic approach to entirely new applications, taking advantage of the recent developments in nano-technology.

First step: a think-tank

Obviously, one has to start by learning and understanding what nano-science and engineering have to offer. Then one has to combine this with the geotechnical problems that are either hard-to-solve or impossible-to-solve at present time. If a possibility exists, this has to be told to everyone interested, both geotechs and nano-techs. In some cases it may be possible to apply an already developed nano-technology in solving a geotechnical problem, while in others nano-technologists may be given food for thought for further innovations. At our (geotech) side, the first step is to determine the needs, and problems that could conceivably be attacked by nano-technology.

This is a major undertaking, which cannot be realized by one wo/man—not even everyone at one institution. It has to be a distributed project. The project will have to be realized by contributions from great many people living and working at great many places. Because this requires such a great deal of knowledge, creativity, intelligence—power of thinking, analysis, and design, and at such a grand scale, that I cannot think of any other way than bringing together everyone capable of contributing in a global forum of scientists and engineers; and the most obvious place to meet is the Internet.

As the first step of this endevor, I am making this think-tank proposal. Everyone who has something to say about this come forward! Since this can only be done over the Web, this will be a W3G project—details later.

What are the incentives to join? Making a little more money? Travel? No, much more than that. First of all, the satisfaction of knowing that you have done an incredibly important thing; you have shared your God-given genius with others, to accomplish a useful thing for your fellow human beings. Read the Emerson quote for an explanation. Second, you will be one of those select individuals who know about what is going on, and what will be going on in the decades ahead. Finally, armed with that knowledge, you will have the opportunity to contribute to the creation of the future—and be rewarded handsomely.

As an example, I am going to give you this starting point:

First app: Baro-Nano's

A baro-nano is just a concept at this point. Its main function is to absorb excess pore pressures. It will be deployed into the liquid phase of the soil, and it will suck up the pore pressures. A wide range of geotechnical problems can be solved with baro-nano:

Note that you cannot really stop a liquefaction in progress by sucking up the excess pore pressures--attempting that could make liquefaction worse (excessive settlements). But it may be possible to pre-treat liquefaction-prone soils beforehand. This would involve cementation of grain-to-grain contact points. Then again, can't we do that by another nano-agent?


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