Nanotech Takes on Homeland Terror is the title of a piece by Josh Wolfe and Dan van den Bergh over at Forbes.com. It describes current and near-term applications for nanotech in detecting biowarfare agents and in protecting soldiers:
The DOD believed in nano long before the term was mainstream…Current detection tools using nanotechnology allow high-speed molecular detection of pathogens through analysis of their DNA in a matter of a few minutes where classical detection tools using regular PCR (polymerase chain reaction) would take over six hours. PCR is a DNA-amplification process that is needed in order to have enough genetic material for detection. Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) uses nanoscaled fluorescent probes that allow the tracking of the progress of the amplification from the start.
Specific companies doing defense-related nanotech work are described including Cepheid, Northrup Grumman, Combimatrix, Nanosys, and one of our favorites, Nanomix, which makes “nanosensors that can detect amounts of gas with just a few molecules present with a response time of 500 milliseconds”.
Not covered in the article are longer-term military applications of nanotechnology, which unfortunately could include offensive uses. But we have some time before this issue will arise, as explained in Unbounding the Future: “So long as nanotechnology is technologically more challenging than the simple chemistry of nerve gas, nanoterrorism should not be a primary concern.” —Christine