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Key Constraints and Obstacles

We still have a long way to go before we can enjoy the fruits of nanotechnology.  If you think nano-pants with a stain resistant coating is a true representation of the potential of the science, then think again.  The true value of nanotechnology will ultimately lie in its improvements to electronics and medicine.  Coatings and hard metals are relatively mundane examples of nanotechnology.  In fact, they are so mundane and un-original that I would think twice about labeling them as nanotechnology.  To me, the real essence of nanotechnology occurs when you synthesize something entirely new.  With metals, metallurgists are only tweaking their old synthesis techniques to yield grain sizes with a nanometer order of magnitude.  That's not particularly that innovative compared to, let's say, a carbon nanotube created with laser ablation.

The worst problem that we face right now in nanotechnology lies in our ability to see and manipulate the end products.  We need to rely on a host of tools and analysis techniques, but the truth is that we will never be able to hold a nanowire in our hands or throw a quantum dot.  Nanotechnology will forever be intangible in the human sense.  Much like a microchip processor, the details are too fine for us to fully comprehend without some sort of powerful microscope.  Unfortunately, microscopy is a very time consuming process.  Most microscopes require a vacuum or a clean room in order to operate effectively.  They're also vulnerable to building vibration.

To make things even worse, most things in the nanoscale are very volatile when exposed to the environment.  All of your careful work could be eradicated the instant you expose it to the atmosphere.  A carbon nanotube transistor, for instance, won't necessarily work as it was intended once it is removed out of the vacuum.

Lastly, there is the question of quantum mechanics.  With smaller devices, you open up a whole new can of worms that allow electrons to miraculously pass through barriers that you erect.  With such small components we increasingly face the risk of lost efficiency from this mode of barrier penetration.

There are many other serious problems to overcome before nanotechnology reaches its peak in productivity and efficiency.  Considering the raw amount of money being poured into new research and machinery, I don't think they will be a serious problem now that governments are committed to the science.  Hopefully in the next decade we'll begin to see new products that will revolutionize our world just like electronics did 50 years ago.