Science teachers everywhere have had always had to face the question, "Dr. T., when are we going to use this?" In pop culture, it has always seemed to me that the general public is science-phobic, unless they are shopping for beauty products. Then it's "bring on the polypeptides," no matter how dubious the product's claims are.
But a new discovery has promise to deliver a genuine benefit, and brings nanotechnology into real life. Last week's edition of NPR's Science Friday explained that geckos use nanotubes to stick to glass surfaces. Now researchers have "designed a surface with similar structures to create a sticky, strong, biodegradable surgical adhesive bandage that could be used in a variety of medical applications."
Nanotechnology has always been inscrutable to me, requiring too much abstract explanation to make a lasting impression on my long-term memory. This engaging story finally made nanotechnology seem like something that the general public should know about. It highlighted the fact that the everyday phenomenon of geckos sticking to glass actually involves an elegant mechanism that relies on nanoscale pillars, Van der Waals forces and capillary action--something many of us learned about in chemistry and promptly forgot about as soon as the test was over.
The Science Friday interview is fascinating, and a New Scientist article provides more technical details for those who are interested in learning more.