Nanotech Machines overrun by (relatively) giant bugs.
May 7, 2001 2:44 PM   Subscribe

Nanotech Machines overrun by (relatively) giant bugs. Electron Microscope imagery has such a great look to it. Here's a series of images from the folks at Sandia Labs, who - while imaging their micro-machines - placed some interesting creatures in the frame for scale.
posted by kokogiak (12 comments total)
Be sure to click the "categories" drop-down as well for more images. The Steam Engines caught my eye. 19th century tech in a 21st century application.
posted by kokogiak at 2:45 PM on May 7, 2001

The really annoying thing about this site is you have to reload the page after clicking a thumbnails, because the JavaScript they use for the pop-up windows somehow errors out the second and subsequent times you click.
posted by kindall at 3:58 PM on May 7, 2001

really? no errors here...but those are some pretty damned cool images. I had no idea nanotech had advanced so far.
posted by Hackworth at 5:02 PM on May 7, 2001

I'd hate the thought that those things are crawling about inside my computer, much less the rest of my house. Ick!
posted by ZachsMind at 5:33 PM on May 7, 2001

There are mites on your body right now, Zach.
posted by kindall at 6:17 PM on May 7, 2001

These photos make me wonder if nanomechanics can ever be suitable for use outside of the lab. ZachsMind hits the nail on the head -- every surface in our lives is covered in these tiny critters and other microscopic fauna, not to mention the dust they all consume.

I, too, had no idea that nanotech had come so far as to make the unbelievably small components you can clearly see in the pictures. Not just gears but screws and latches and all sorts of nifty things.
posted by briank at 6:19 PM on May 7, 2001

Wow. I had a great time just figuring out how they did all that stuff (comb drives, 24 bit mechanical lock, etc) from the pictures. It is truly amazing how far things have come. (i.e., "Me too!")

I don't think these critters will be a big problem. Certainly these mechanisms can be encased somehow to protect them from the elements. I guess they would have to be encased pretty well, because as this image shows, a grain of pollen (upper right) could easily jam a gear. I suppose it's different than usual because things big enough to jam normal gears tend not to float around in the air.
posted by whatnotever at 8:46 PM on May 7, 2001

Oh, I forgot to mention that I'm doing the career-equivalent of drooling over a dessert display case right now ("Mmm... nanotech.").

Well, I guess I'd better start working on that PhD...
posted by whatnotever at 8:55 PM on May 7, 2001

wow. i'm as goggle-eyed as the rest!

the precision in those things is phenomenal (as it has to be....) i thought weighing out ingredients to the last gram for dessert work was precise - these guys have it all over me! i'm definitely sticking to food! (and you really don't want to know about the micro-organisms which inhabit your food - and your intestinal tract!)
posted by cakefork at 1:30 AM on May 8, 2001

These things aren't nano by any stretch of the imagination. They're micro. Three whole orders of mangnitude bigger. Nanomachines are typically made out of molecules and individual atoms, and would not be visible when pictured with a dust mite or pollen grain. Micromechanisms are made of layers of silicon anywhere from several to hundreds of microns thick.

brianK, there's a reason why you hadn't thought nanotechnology had come this far. It simply hasn't. Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), the classification these machines fall under, have though. You'll find them in your air bag sensor (acceleromters), and you engine (flow meters and pressure sensors) to name just a few applications. Nanotechnology is currently confined to the research lab and Gibson novels.

whatnotever, you're exactly right. Mites, pollen and humidity (ugh, humidity) are troublesome in the lab, as the devices are exposed for testing, but in production they're encapsulated like computer chips.

Wired magazine had a great description of this 'disruptive' technology in its January 2000 issue. They're disruptive not in that they'll destroy life as we know it, but will become so pervasive that one won't know life without them.
posted by crustbuster at 7:55 AM on May 8, 2001

What, crustbuster, no "gray goo" a la Bill Joy? :-)

Thank you for the clarification on nano vs micromechanicals.
posted by briank at 7:59 AM on May 8, 2001

brinak, the 'gray goo' could still happen, just not with MEMS. Read what K. Eric Drexler has to say about nanotech in the seminal tome 'Engines of Creation.' MEMS won't turn us and everything around us into goo, but they may soon build the things that will....BWAHAHAHAHA! (evil menacing laugh)
posted by crustbuster at 8:10 AM on May 8, 2001

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