Watergate was a major political scandal in the United States which eventually led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974.
The name came from the Nixon administration's attempt to cover up its involvement in the break-in at the Watergate Office Building.
At some point after that event, the -gate suffix was universally used to suggest a far-reaching scandal or some unethical behaviour.
- Dieselgate (VW was found to be cheating on emission tests in their diesel vehicles)
- Sandpapergate (the ball-tempering scandal with the Australian cricket team)
- Choppergate (Bronwyn Bishop using public money to fly from Melbourne to a party in Geelong)
We have a similar situation with the prefix "nano".
Nano has been standardised for use in the International System of Units (SI) as a prefix to mean 10 to the power of negative 9 (or one billionth).
It is a very precise and exact measurement. For example, you might describe the length of three gold atoms lined up as being one nanometre long.
This is an exact measurement, but for some reason similar to the -gate suffix, we now just throw the word nano in whenever we want to show that something is small.
Think of nanorobotics or nano SIMs or a nanobrewery (smaller than a microbrewery obviously).
The latest nano that has come across my desk is a nanogrid.
Once again not technically the correct use of the nano prefix but a very clever idea.
When disasters strike around the world (floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, bushfires etc.) there is a loss of essential infrastructure.
This makes it difficult to conduct rescues or even for initial survivors to continue to survive without certain items, like clean drinking water and electricity.
With so many advances in renewable technology, one company has combined those advances into a compact towable trailer about the size of a large caravan.
Hook up the trailer and take it straight to an area of need. Fold out the solar panels on the roof and you have a device that can provide up to 20 kilowatts of power.
That might be enough to power up to six houses or essential medical equipment at a rescue site.
Combine that with the onboard water filtration system and you have up to 500 litres of potable water each day.
The average human needs about two litres a day so that would cover essential drinking needs of more than 250 people.
The unit has rechargeable batteries so it can keep providing power overnight.
It is also fitted with hydrogen tanks so the unit can be topped up with hydrogen power if the sun is not being friendly for an extended period.
It may not sound essential, but it also provides internet connectivity and I am sure the small office inside would often be used as a central office to manage a disaster site.
It has the ability to add a small wind turbine to provide even further power stability and the entire setup can be operational within 15 minutes.
Sounds incredibly clever and useful even if it technically isn't quite nano!
The article was written by Mathew Dickerson for The Canberra Times and published on March 25 2023. Mathew Dickerson is a technologist, futurist and host of the Tech Talk podcast.