It’s been more than two centuries since the industrial revolution changed the world by introducing new technology that made it easier for people to live their day-to-day lives. Now more than 200 years later, a new industrial revolution is poised to change our lives again and boost our economy with the latest innovation: nanotechnology.
Nanotechnology, or nanotech, is a manufacturing technology in which matter is manipulated at the nanoscale (think atoms and molecules) to make products harder, lighter, stronger, cleaner, and less expensive. Although nanotech on a consumer level is still in its infancy, it’s maturing rapidly. More than 800 nanotech-enabled products are currently available around the world, with an estimated three to four new products coming out every week. These products include everything from clothing, cosmetics, and food to appliances and computers. Some products boast their nanotech properties, such as the KLENZ Clean Shoe Locker, which sterilizes shoes and destroys bacteria using nano silver, while other products are less obvious, such as Dockers Go Khaki pants. These use nanotechnology to keep the fabric stain-free. Even the popular iPhone utilizes nanotechnology. In fact, almost all electronic devices manufactured in the last decade use some nanomaterials.
Nanotechnology is a relatively new concept that was first talked about in 1959 but wasn’t put into use until the late 1970s, when the first molecular machines were created to manipulate matter. Despite the controversy surrounding the procedure, due to fears of possible health and environmental risks, the U.S. government recognized its potential and began federal funding for nanotech during the Clinton administration by starting the National Nanotechnology Initiative. Decades later the controversy continues with environmental activists, regulators, and lawmakers demanding more research and regulations to ensure that nanoparticles are safe. The National Nanotechnology Initiative Amendments Act of 2009 was passed to ensure that federal research explores and is honest about the potential risks of nanotechnology.
While skeptics fear the long-term, unknown consequences of ingesting or polluting the environment with manipulated matter, the advantages of nanotechnology are very real. In addition to the basic consumer products currently benefiting from it, nanotech promises to make huge advancements in medicine, energy production, communications, and technology, which is why many scientists and business leaders are calling it the catalyst for the next industrial revolution.
Not only are our lives poised to change forever, but if the first industrial revolution is any indication, our economy would rebound as well, with the proliferation of new job opportunities and consumer spending. It’s estimated that in the next five years, nanotech-enabled products will contribute approximately $1 trillion to the global economy, and about 2 million workers will be employed in nanotech industries, with 6 million in supporting jobs.
From skincare and clothes to computer chips and clean water, nanotechnology has the potential to affect every aspect of life as we know it. And as the government continues to fund its research and development, we will see new industries and jobs created to stimulate our economy.