January 25, 2008

Nanotechnology: ‘The Biggest Wave of Technology in Human History’

Bryan Ertz ’11 writes about his experiences in his First-Year Seminar

In the fall semester, Bryan Ertz ’11 (Yarmouth, Maine) took the First-Year Seminar “Nanotechnology and Modern Society,” taught by James Ferri, associate professor of chemical engineering. The chemical engineering major is also a member of the men’s lacrosse team.

Although I did not know a great deal about nanotechnology before taking “Nanotechnology and Modern Society” with Professor Ferri, I had the understanding that it is potentially the biggest wave of technology in human history. I thought it would be interesting and helpful to have some general knowledge of a field that most likely will have a large impact on our lives in the near future.

I believe this course was an excellent learning opportunity. One of the highlights of my experience was learning from someone who is currently working on developing very useful technology, such as nano-scale capsules that could be used to deliver drugs in a controlled manner within the human body based on environmental conditions. Professor Ferri was able to lend a great perspective because he is actively involved in some cutting-edge research in the field of nanotechnology. I’ve found that learning from somebody at the forefront of the field allows a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of the material.

I also feel that this allowed the class to stay up to date with the latest important developments in the field. Professor Ferri used his vast knowledge to ensure that students developed a fundamental understanding of how the technology works and its technological, societal, and ethical implications.

This class provided a rather broad overview of the field of nanotechnology. However, I concentrated my research on superhydrophobic materials. These are objects with remarkably water-repellent properties. They are the key to self-cleaning surfaces and will improve the fuel efficiency of all watercrafts if applied to the hull. It is amazing that something that may seem like a small advancement at first glance can have such a potentially far reaching impact.

There was ample opportunity to learn outside of the classroom. I attended lectures by M.I.T. professor and the founder of the field of mammalian cell biotechnology, Daniel I.C. Wang, and Johns Hopkins professor and tissue engineering researcher Jennifer H. Elisseeff. I was unable to attend the ChemShow exposition in New York City, but I was told by my classmates that it was an excellent experience.

Nanotechnology has the potential to improve our quality of life in almost every facet. However, one of the major promises is that it is the key to curing diseases or conditions that are currently difficult to treat. This is the field of nanomedicine.

There are also many ethical and social ramifications to nanotechnology. For example, nanomedicine has the potential to greatly extend the lifespans of those who can afford it. Will this cause a large divide in class between those who can afford it and those who can’t? How will retirement income systems such as pension plans and Social Security hold up under the extended use by those with longer lives? What if nanomedicine can only extend life without extending functionality? Will those people using nanomedicine become a burden to society if they cannot function independently or support themselves? These are only some of the questions that nanotechnology brings up.

  • First-Year Experiences
  • First-Year Seminar
  • Class of 2011
  • Chemical Engineering

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