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The downside of nanotech: do tiny particles spell big trouble?

We talk a lot about the wonders of nanotechnology here at Gizmag. After all it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement surround the technology when it promises to revolutionize practically every area of human endeavor. Among its long list of anticipated benefits are new medical treatments; stronger, lighter materials; improved energy production, storage and transmission; and more effective pollution monitoring and prevention, just to name a few. But nanotechnology is not just something set to come about in some far off future – it is happening now. In fact, the odds are there is a product either containing, or made using nanoparticles sitting in your house right now. But the big question is, are they safe?

A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter and nanotechnology deals with particles that measure 1-100 nanometers in size. At this incredibly tiny scale, chemistry is different and nanoparticles do not behave like normal particles. Because the proportion of surface atoms increases as the size of a particle decreases nanoscale particles tend to be more chemically reactive than ordinary-sized particles of the same material. This makes it hard to predict how these tiny, tiny particles will act under different conditions, and it is this unpredictability that poses some very big questions.

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