Imagine this: you buy a new computer monitor, take your old one and just bury it in the garden. 3 years later the monitor has biodegraded and your prized tomatoes are growing better than ever. The world’s first 100% biodegradable computer components have arrived.
The new $100 million plant in Santa Barbara, funded by Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, will be the world's largest factory for making solar power cells. It will be operational by 2007 and will ultimately produce enough cells to power 325,000 homes.
Through nanoscience and molecular biology we are learning more about how natural systems, organisms and materials behave, and nanotechnology and biotechnology give us the tools not only to intervene in those systems, but to create new ones based on their capabilities.
The lotus leaf is a good example. By studying its molecular makeup, scientists have unlocked its hydrophobic (water-repellant) properties and incorporated them into a new breed of materials capable of shedding water completely. The NanoNuno umbrella, for instance, dries itself completely after a downpour with just one shake. Developers are applying the hydrophobic properties of the lotus leaf in a wide range of products and materials from self-cleaning windows to car wax.
Nature offers endless lessons that could be applied to future products, processes and materials. By examining the nanoscale structure of gecko feet, for instance, scientists have created gloves so adhesive a person wearing them can hang from the ceiling. All of these lessons will enable us to learn from nature to create systems, materials and devices that are less wasteful and more efficient. Nature does not waste, and through biomimicry we will learn to model our own systems with the efficiency, beauty and economy of natural systems.
The study of ecology and ecosystems has long told us that natural systems are more efficient, more balanced, and less harmful to their surroundings than human systems. But until now we have lacked the technical ability to copy those systems because of their complexity. Nanotechnology and biotechnology, however, give us that ability to a remarkable degree. By tweaking matter at the molecular and cellular level, we may reproduce the properties of complex natural systems. Through expanding nanoscience and bioscience, we will learn more about nature's remarkable ability to create and maintain systems with zero energy loss and zero waste. Nanotechnology and biotechnology may then provide the means to reproduce those systems and create new ones modeled on their behavior with increasing accuracy. The result will be new human systems with the attributes of natural ones--greater efficiency, less waste, and fewer harmful side effects.