Homeland Security Gets Small

By John Quain  |  Posted 2003-12-24 Print this article Print

Nanotechnology may be the key to homeland security.

Ultimately, fighting the war on terrorism may have less to do with giant aircraft carriers and more to do with atomic-scale detection and prevention systems. Nanotechnology, which is expected to transform everything from computer processors to drug delivery systems, may also be the key to homeland security, argues a new book.

In Nanotechnology and Homeland Security: New Weapons for New Wars (Prentice Hall, 2003), Mark A. Ratner, a professor of chemistry at Northwestern University and a noted expert in molecular electronics, and his son Daniel Ratner, a high-tech entrepreneur, claim that current research in nanotechnology will lead to intelligent sensors, smart materials, and other methods for thwarting biological and chemical attacks.

"The number-one thing," says Daniel Ratner, "is going to be smart sensors. These could be immensely useful in finding weapons of mass destruction, for example. Today, you need a lab, and it takes days to analyze samples. In the future, a lab on a chip with nano-based sensors could give you a result in seconds."

Such devices could also protect seaports by scanning all incoming shipping containers. Like reusable litmus paper, nanodot particles could instantly change color upon detecting the presence of anthrax DNA strands.

And when sensors arent enough, nanotechnology could be used to minimize the effects of terrorist attacks. "There are products coming for explosive mitigation," explains Daniel Ratner. "One is a blast-retardant foam that acts like an airbag for buildings and could be used in future construction." While the authors believe nanotech research will be essential to homeland security, Daniel Ratner says, "The biggest advances are still three, five, and up to ten years away."

John Quain John Quain is the Wireless Center Editor and wireless columnist for Ziff Davis Media. He is also the on-air Computer Consultant for CBS News, appearing regularly on the network's overnight newscast Up to the Minute for over 7 years. In addition, Quain does occasional reports for CBS News The Early Show and has been reporting on technology and related business and entertainment news for over 20 years. Quain has appeared regularly on ABC News, CNN, CNNfn, MSNBC, and CNBC.

In addition to his online and on-air work, Quain currently contributes articles about computers, the Internet, consumer electronics, and technology to PC Magazine, Popular Science, Esquire, and The New York Times. Other publications Quain contributes to include Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, Men's Journal, Tech Edge, and Good Housekeeping.

Past positions Quain has held include working as a Contributing Editor at Fast Company magazine for 4 years and at PC Magazine for 9 years. He also wrote a technology column for Brill's Content magazine, was the gadgets columnist at My Generation magazine, was the daily Internet columnist for Time Warner's Pathfinder, and was the computer columnist at The Globe and Mail newspaper.


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