Millions of people take cruises each year; but when their cruise ends, they usually return to their homes on land. Wouldn't it be great if there were a cruise that never ended? That's the basic idea behind a new ocean vessel called Freedom Ship. Unlike a cruise ship, Freedom Ship will be a floating city with permanent residents. The ship will circle the globe every two years and offer everything available in your hometown, including a hospital, college and one of the world's largest shopping malls.
Freedom Ship will most likely become a home for the rich and famous. Suites start at $121,000 for a 300-square-foot room and go up to $11 million for a 5,100 square foot suite on the ship's exclusive 21st floor, where prices start at $3 million!
No cruise ship that has ever been built can compare to the enormity of Freedom Ship. Imagine a mile-long stretch of 25-story-tall buildings in New York City; now imagine that floating on the water. If you can picture that, then you get the general idea of Freedom Ship's size. At 4,320 feet (1,317 meters) long, 725 feet (221 m) wide and 340 feet (103 m) tall, the ship is taller than the length of a football field and wider than two football fields put together. And not only can a ship that size float on water, but it may be navigating the world's oceans as early as 2005.
Freedom Ship will dwarf any ocean-going vessel operating today -- it will be more than four times longer than any current cruise ship. Here's a comparison of Freedom Ship to Royal Caribbean Cruise Line's Explorer of the Seas, the largest cruise ship as of December 2000:
4,320 ft / 1,317 m
1,020 ft / 311 m
725 ft / 221 m
157.5 ft / 48 m
Above Sea Level
340 ft / 104 m
200 ft / 61 m
2.7 million tons
2.4 million metric tons
128,820 metric tons
Freedom Ship will be built on top of 520 airtight steel cells that will be bolted together to form a sturdy base. Each cell will be 80 feet (24 meters) tall, between 50 and 100 feet (15 and 30 m) wide and between 50 and 120 feet (15 and 37 m) long. These cells will be assembled to form larger units that are about 300 x 400 feet (91 x 122 m). These larger units will then be taken out to sea, where they will be put together to form the ship's nearly mile-long base. The rest of the ship will be constructed on top of this base. Norman Nixon, who developed the idea of a floating city, has said that it will take about three years to finish the ship once construction begins.
It will take a tremendous amount of engine power to push the gigantic ship through the water. The vessel will be equipped with 100 diesel engines that can generate 3,700 horsepower each. Developers project the cost of each engine to be about $1 million. That may give you an idea of how expensive the project is, although the total cost of Freedom Ship has not been released. The ship's high construction cost will be passed on to residents, who will pay up to $11 million to purchase living space on the floating city. In the next section, you'll find out what these residents will get for such a price.
Freedom Ship will have 17,000 residential units and will be home to more than 60,000 people, including residents and all of the personnel that will be required to maintain the ship. The floating city will continuously circle the world and will travel to most of Earth's coastal regions, offering residents the ability to see the entire globe without leaving their home. All of the ship's employees will be given food, housing, uniforms, medical and dental care and a continuing education program. The ship will contain all of the features that any modern city might have, including:
For those who can afford to live on Freedom Ship, the most attractive feature may be that it has no local taxes, including income tax, real estate tax, sales tax, business tax and import duties. However, residents will have to abide by federal tax laws in their home country.
For entertainment, residents can visit one of the many restaurants, casinos, nightclubs and theaters. Residents will also enjoy tennis, basketball, bowling, putting greens, swimming pools, gyms, a skating rink and fishing from the ship's marina. Each home will have 100 channels of worldwide satellite TV channels and local programming from nearby countries. Internet access will be available in each unit.
Just like your own hometown, Freedom Ship will have a security force onboard that will patrol the ship at all times. In addition, the ship's entire crew will receive security training. An electronic security system will be installed to offer further protection to residents.
In addition to all of these benefits, Freedom Ship will also be environmentally friendly, according to its developers. There will be no sewage treatment plant and no sewage to spill. The ship will use incinerator toilets, which cost about $3,000 apiece, to burn all sewage. The ashes will be put in the flower beds. Waste oil will be burned in an exhaust steam plant to generate electricity, instead of being dumped in the ocean. All used glass, paper and metal will be recycled and sold. Freedom Ship International estimates that each resident will produce 80 percent less waste on the ship than at his or her current home on land.
There's an unprecedented multidisciplinary convergence of scientists dedicated to the study of a world so small, we can't see it -- even with a light microscope. That world is the field of nanotechnology, the realm of atoms and nanostructures. Nanotechnology is so new, no one is really sure what will come of it. Even so, predictions range from the ability to reproduce things like diamonds and food to the world being devoured by self-replicating nanorobots.
In order to understand the unusual world of nanotechnology, we need to get an idea of the units of measure involved. A centimeter is one-hundredth of a meter, a millimeter is one-thousandth of a meter, and a micrometer is one-millionth of a meter, but all of these are still huge compared to the nanoscale. A nanometer (nm) is one-billionth of a meter, smaller than the wavelength of visible light and a hundred-thousandth the width of a human hair.
As small as a nanometer is, it's still large compared to the atomic scale. An atom has a diameter of about 0.1 nm. An atom's nucleus is much smaller -- about 0.00001 nm. Atoms are the building blocks for all matter in our universe. You and everything around you are made of atoms. Nature has perfected the science of manufacturing matter molecularly. For instance, our bodies are assembled in a specific manner from millions of living cells. Cells are nature's nanomachines. At the atomic scale, elements are at their most basic level. On the nanoscale, we can potentially put these atoms together to make almost anything.
In a lecture called "Small Wonders:The World of Nanoscience," Nobel Prize winner Dr. Horst Störmer said that the nanoscale is more interesting than the atomic scale because the nanoscale is the first point where we can assemble something -- it's not until we start putting atoms together that we can make anything useful.
In this article, we'll learn about what nanotechnology means today and what the future of nanotechnology may hold. We'll also look at the potential risks that come with working at the nanoscale.
World Of NANOTECH
Experts sometimes disagree about what constitutes the nanoscale, but in general, you can think of nanotechnology dealing with anything measuring between 1 and 100 nm. Larger than that is the microscale, and smaller than that is the atomic scale.
Nanotechnology is rapidly becoming an interdisciplinary field. Biologists, chemists, physicists and engineers are all involved in the study of substances at the nanoscale. Dr. Störmer hopes that the different disciplines develop a common language and communicate with one another. Only then, he says, can we effectively teach nanoscience since you can't understand the world of nanotechnology without a solid background in multiple sciences.
One of the exciting and challenging aspects of the nanoscale is the role that quantum mechanics plays in it. The rules of quantum mechanics are very different from classical physics, which means that the behavior of substances at the nanoscale can sometimes contradict common sense by behaving erratically. You can't walk up to a wall and immediately teleport to the other side of it, but at the nanoscale an electron can -- it's called electron tunneling. Substances that are insulators, meaning they can't carry an electric charge, in bulk form might become semiconductors when reduced to the nanoscale. Melting points can change due to an increase in surface area. Much of nanoscience requires that you forget what you know and start learning all over again.
So what does this all mean? Right now, it means that scientists are experimenting with substances at the nanoscale to learn about their properties and how we might be able to take advantage of them in various applications. Engineers are trying to use nano-size wires to create smaller, more powerful microprocessors. Doctors are searching for ways to use nanoparticles in medical applications. Still, we've got a long way to go before nanotechnology dominates the technology and medical markets.
In the next section, we'll look at two important nanotechnology structures: nanowires and carbon nanotubes.
Nanowires and Carbon Nanotubes
Currently, scientists find two nano-size structures of particular interest: nanowires and carbon nanotubes. Nanowires are wires with a very small diameter, sometimes as small as 1 nanometer. Scientists hope to use them to build tiny transistors for computer chips and other electronic devices. In the last couple of years, carbon nanotubes have overshadowed nanowires. We're still learning about these structures, but what we've learned so far is very exciting.
A carbon nanotube is a nano-size cylinder of carbon atoms. Imagine a sheet of carbon atoms, which would look like a sheet of hexagons. If you roll that sheet into a tube, you'd have a carbon nanotube. Carbon nanotube properties depend on how you roll the sheet. In other words, even though all carbon nanotubes are made of carbon, they can be very different from one another based on how you align the individual atoms.
With the right arrangement of atoms, you can create a carbon nanotube that's hundreds of times stronger than steel, but six times lighter [source: The Ecologist]. Engineers plan to make building material out of carbon nanotubes, particularly for things like cars and airplanes. Lighter vehicles would mean better fuel efficiency, and the added strength translates to increased passenger safety.
Carbon nanotubes can also be effective semiconductors with the right arrangement of atoms. Scientists are still working on finding ways to make carbon nanotubes a realistic option for transistors in microprocessors and other electronics.
You might be surprised to find out how many products on the market are already benefiting from nanotechnology.
In the world of "Star Trek," machines called replicators can produce practically any physical object, from weapons to a steaming cup of Earl Grey tea. Long considered to be exclusively the product of science fiction, today some people believe replicators are a very real possibility. They call it molecular manufacturing, and if it ever does become a reality, it could drastically change the world.
Atoms and molecules stick together because they have complementary shapes that lock together, or charges that attract. Just like with magnets, a positively charged atom will stick to a negatively charged atom. As millions of these atoms are pieced together by nanomachines, a specific product will begin to take shape. The goal of molecular manufacturing is to manipulate atoms individually and place them in a pattern to produce a desired structure.
The first step would be to develop nanoscopic machines, called assemblers, that scientists can program to manipulate atoms and molecules at will. Rice University Professor Richard Smalley points out that it would take a single nanoscopic machine millions of years to assemble a meaningful amount of material. In order for molecular manufacturing to be practical, you would need trillions of assemblers working together simultaneously. Eric Drexler believes that assemblers could first replicate themselves, building other assemblers. Each generation would build another, resulting in exponential growth until there are enough assemblers to produce objects.
Trillions of assemblers and replicators could fill an area smaller than a cubic millimeter, and could still be too small for us to see with the naked eye. Assemblers and replicators could work together to automatically construct products, and could eventually replace all traditional labor methods. This could vastly decrease manufacturing costs, thereby making consumer goods plentiful, cheaper and stronger. Eventually, we could be able to replicate anything, including diamonds, water and food. Famine could be eradicated by machines that fabricate foods to feed the hungry.
Nanotechnology may have its biggest impact on the medical industry. Patients will drink fluids containing nanorobots programmed to attack and reconstruct the molecular structure of cancer cells and viruses. There's even speculation that nanorobots could slow or reverse the aging process, and life expectancy could increase significantly. Nanorobots could also be programmed to perform delicate surgeries -- such nanosurgeons could work at a level a thousand times more precise than the sharpest scalpel [source: International Journal of Surgery]. By working on such a small scale, a nanorobot could operate without leaving the scars that conventional surgery does. Additionally, nanorobots could change your physical appearance. They could be programmed to perform cosmetic surgery, rearranging your atoms to change your ears, nose, eye color or any other physical feature you wish to alter.
Nanotechnology has the potential to have a positive effect on the environment. For instance, scientists could program airborne nanorobots to rebuild the thinning ozone layer. Nanorobots could remove contaminants from water sources and clean up oil spills. Manufacturing materials using the bottom-up method of nanotechnology also creates less pollution than conventional manufacturing processes. Our dependence on non-renewable resources would diminish with nanotechnology. Cutting down trees, mining coal or drilling for oil may no longer be necessary -- nanomachines could produce those resources.
Many nanotechnology experts feel that these applications are well outside the realm of possibility, at least for the foreseeable future. They caution that the more exotic applications are only theoretical. Some worry that nanotechnology will end up like virtual reality -- in other words, the hype surrounding nanotechnology will continue to build until the limitations of the field become public knowledge, and then interest (and funding) will quickly dissipate.