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Nanotechnology is an applied science that analyzes material at the molecular level. Natural or man-made material is analyzed at a level smaller than what can be seen by a normal microscope. At this scale, scientists can identify features of a material that are not apparent at larger scales; properties like electric and heat conductivity, strength and magnetic force. Scientists can analyze material attributes at this scale and then engineers can extrapolate this information to different materials to help humanity function unencumbered in harmony with the natural world.
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Theory and Reality
In theory, scientists are able to study the water repellent properties of the lotus leaf at a nano- scale, one billionth of a meter, and then apply that knowledge to the development of rain proof outdoor gear.
In reality, nanotechnology has been used to develop a molecular powder that can neutralize chemical spills, either gaseous or liquid, combating chemical air or water pollution. This powerful tool adds protection to the environment and people who live near industrial facilities where potential hazardous releases may occur but now damage can be limited.
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Solar power is being transformed through nanotechnology by developing thin solar absorbing plastics that can be molded to fit irregular surfaces like cylinders. Telephone poles can now be electric power generators, supplanting expensive solar panels that require large geographic areas and new transmission infrastructures. Solar power generating materials can be mass produced and distributed to remote areas of developing countries (China and India) eliminating problems associated with coal and carbon emissions without impacting the ability to achieve a higher socio-economic lifestyle.
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Benefits and Risks
Nanotechnology is not without risks. Nano-materials are so small they can be ubiquitously dispersed creating problems if they need to be collected at a later point in time as is the case with nano-silver developed to prevent odors in fabrics; it is dispersed into the environment through these specially treated fabrics but it is unclear whether nano-silver reacts negatively after its initial purpose is achieved.
The benefits of nanotechnology can outweigh the negatives. More research and study is needed, but for now nanotechnology is a great option that should be pursued for solar power generation and reduction of greenhouse gases.
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Nanotechnology Fact Sheet: http://www.epa.gov/ncer/nano/factsheet/
Nanotechnology Blog: http://envirowords.com/public/?p=107