You've probably heard the term nanotechnology, and perhaps seen products that boast of nanotech. If not, you will soon; according to The Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, there are hundreds of products already on the market that use this tech, including toothpastes, wound dressings, food storage containers, pencils, sun screens, ice axes and face cream.
So just what is nanotech? While the term has been co-opted by the sci-fi entertainment industry as an precursor to the nouveau boogey-man (thanks for nothing, StarGate!), the reality is nothing of the sort. Simply put, nanotech takes ordinary compounds and elements and creates very, very, very tiny particles of them, in structures they don't normally occur. Think of rolling out dough, then rolling it into balls for biscuits.
The classic example is the carbon nanotube. To understand the value of the nanotube, first imagine a flat sheet of clay drain tile material. Sit down on it, without any support beneath, and you'd probably end up on the ground with broken tile underneath. Shape that same sheet into a tube, such as a drain pipe, and it will support your weight just fine.
Another reason that nanotech is so valuable is that some materials have different properties at that scale. Silver, for example, becomes an anti-bacterial, the idea behind the Nano Silver Baby Mug Cup. The nano-sized chunks of titanium oxide in a sunscreen allow you to avoid that slathered-in-mayonnaise look at the beach that comes from older sunscreens containing much larger chunks of the oxide.
So nanotech is not something to be feared. I think of it as a modern-day equivalent of the invention of the arch, without which we wouldn't have had the aqueducts, Notre Dame or the Gateway to the West.