I took advantage of an Open House Architecture initiative to go to the Crann Building in Trinity College Dublin on Sunday October 10. This building houses the College’s Nano Technology Centre. Nano science is something of which I’d been vaguely aware but about which I knew absolutely nothing other than it dealt with microscopically small stuff.
We were met by our host Maria, a Physics Ph.D. student, from Poland with a Dublin accent so thick that she must have learned all her English from watching movies like ‘Adam and Paul’ and ‘The Commitments’. But she was absolutely enthused by her subject and made a great job of explaining it to the general public.
Because the tour was intended to be about the architecture of the building and Maria showed us the relevant interesting features but the physics kept interrupting. And of course it had to because the building was designed mainly for Physics. Two levels below ground floor there are laboratories all of which have special areas in their floors upon which to place scientific measuring apparatus. These special areas ensure that the equipment will not be affected by vibrations from nearby traffic or trains. The main corridor on this level also has a floor designed so that the vibrations from someone walking along it will not transfer into the adjacent labs.
On the upper levels we were able to see into some of the laboratories. Nano science covers many areas of research including engineering, pharmacology, biochemistry and medicine. I was fascinated to learn that within ten years it will be possible to have a ‘nano chip’ inserted under your skin which will detect microscopic changes in your body chemistry and trigger alerts for various complaints. These alerts can be send by the ‘nano chip’ via the internet to your GP’s computer. Your GP can then call you to schedule an appointment, if necessary.
But these nano gizmos are absolutely tiny and, of course, I had to ask how can the scientists work with them when they can’t even see them. To cut along story, everything is done under a microscope (can’t remember if it was a helium one or plain old electron one) and manipulation is done using probes whose tips are three atoms wide. The ‘nano’ laboratory is a ‘clean’ room and the air is filtered constantly. Anyone entering has to cover up – wearing a CSI type protective suit, glasses, mask and hair covering. One loose eyelash or sneeze can cause expensive contamination.
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the Crann Building and look forward to reading of future advancements in this scientific area.