"Would it be possible to make some nano janitors to clean out my lungs?"
Initially, I laughed at this brilliant, off-the-cuff question by my youngest brother Ryan. He's known for a long time that my PhD research centered around carbon nanotubes, which, when brought up in conversation, inevitably led to my endless lectures on how these amazing materials could change everything: devices that were already small (CPUs) could become incredibly small and reduce their power consumption by factors of 100x or more; drugs could be delivered through syringes almost too small for molecules to pass through them; and the truly sci-fi applications, nano-machines that could roam the world and our bodies while doing god knows what!
Plagued by a lifetime of morning-muckus brought on by a combination of allergies and asthma, Ryan's jokingly-asked question had a far more personal, practical, and immediate angle. If there were to be nano-bots, let them clean! Faster cellphones are nice, but so is the ability to actually take a full breath and smell mom's wonderful bacon and egg breakfast. Technology is great, but only when we can experience the benefit.
The Genius of It All
I love the contrast: bleeding edge technology, billions of dollars spent, decades of time, countless universities and companies working together; all to do one of he most unsexy jobs of all—cleaning! I don't doubt that people in the industry have considered such applications, especially considering one of the biggest fears of nanotechnology is 'grey goo' endgame, where nanobots replicate to infinity and destroy life as we know it. But nobody in the industry would have coined such a crude phrase, preferring a more pompous euphemism (e.g. self-automated nano-mechanical scrubbers) to the more down-and-dirty reality implied by 'nano janitors.' True, it may not be the most buzzword-worthy use of state of the art technology, but it would have an enormous impact on the quality of life for millions of people in the world. And that, is the true genius of it all.
Logically, I know that I shouldn't be surprised. Outsiders are notoriously skilled at piercing through the blind spots, rut thinking, and BS that insiders cannot perceive due to their constant immersion in a given paradigm. This is why it can be advantageous to develop both personal and professional relationships with people of different perspective. Napoleon Hill, famous author of Think and Grow Rich, raves about the benefits of forming a mastermind group, an alliance of individuals that meeting with some regularity with the sole purpose of bring their collective talents together for the benefit of everyone involved. I have not yet formed my group, not have I made it a big enough priority in my life. However, this recent experience is another reminder that I need to get on it!
What are the nano janitor moments in your life? These ah-ha moments are all around you, so be sure to keep your ears open!
Update: it seems the phrase has been coined by CNN. Again, it takes an outsiders creativity...
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About Rick Manelius
Quick Stats: Chief Product Officer of DRUD Tech. Author of Winning the Lottery Within. Graduated from MIT in '03 (BS) and '09 (PhD). Life hacker and peak performance enthusiast. This blog is my experiment in creative writing, self-expression, and sharing what I've learned along my journey. For more information, read my full bio here or contact me.