What is nanotechnology?
Nanotechnology is imagining about invisible medical implants fighting cancers and nano-robots capable of self-replication and clouds of miniature space probes providing data from Mars and Jupiter, definitely gives goosebumps …
Nanotechnology has all the ingredients to emerge as a new industrial revolution….
Nanotechnology is an amalgam of science and engineering dedicated to manipulation of materials and devices that cannot be shrunk to a further possible extent. It is one of the fast moving and exciting areas of science. Nowadays scientists are creating nano structures by rearranging the atoms of an object. They can make new nano materials with new properties that are stronger, lighter or different in colour. Properties change according to the size which is actually the magic of the technology. Over the years nanotechnology will touch the lives of all of us. Like many scientific advances it will bring fruits and risks but it is up to us how we deal with these.
Nanotechnology is rapidly emerging as an interdisciplinary research field, engaging biologist, engineers, and scientists for devising a common language for a clear understanding. The effective study of the field requires a cross sectoral linkage between governments, citizens and scientists.
Nano means it is very small. One billionth of a meter i.e. 10-9 m. It means 10000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. There has been a plethora of naturally occurring nano material like in volcanic ash, ocean spray or dust. These are also present in animals and plants. For example the nano structures in insect eyes. However, intentional creation of the nano material has been made possible in recent years.
How it all began?
The concept of going small was conferred by Richard Feynman, a physicist by profession, who discussed human control over individual atoms and molecules. Prof. Norio Taniguchi used the specific term a decade later. Nevertheless, the practical advancements were expedited with the invention of scanning tunneling microscope (STM) that exhibited individual atoms.
Engineering at Nanoscale is a masterstroke pushing scientists for the adoption of a top down approach of manufacturing. Evidence for self-arrangement of Nanowires have been there, provided optimum conditions are provided. DNA, proteins and other genetic material has been utilized for construction of nanomaterials.
Types of Nanotechnology
Nanotechnology can be classified as:
- Top down: Mechanisms and structures developed at macro scale are reduced to micro level (nanoscale). Electronics are the most common example.
- Bottom Up: A nanostructure can be extended to a bigger size.
- Dry Nanotechnology: Used in manufacturing of materials that do not work under damp or humid conditions e.g. semiconductors and diodes
- Wet Nanotechnology: It is about biological systems and processes that require aqueous medium for progression like genetic materials. Enzymes and cellular materials.
Current Applications of Nanotechnology
The applications of nanotechnology have made a significant footprint on our society. The industrial, communication and health sectors have adopted it extensively. With a clear notion that the arrangement of atoms and molecules can be controlled, the research began. In the area of food scientists are experimenting to create novel products that benefit health and diet. Like nano silver (a material) has antibacterial properties that can be used in food materials like cutting boards, in supplements nanotechnology offers materials that have quicker absorption capacity. Nano sensors can be incorporated into packaging to monitor the quality and shelf life from manufacturers to consumers. It can make food materials healthier and tastier. We need to ensure that food nanotechnologies do not harm the consumers.
In the field of medicine, smart bombs and gold nano-bullets are destroying the tumors and cancerous cells. Disease diagnosis has been highly facilitated, moreover regeneration of cells and genetic material has been witnessed.
As far as the environment is concerned, this technology has the potential to devise cleaner fuels that have increased efficiency and pose reduced environmental risks. The raw material consumption has been reduced while the products offer more functional characteristics.
It is believed that Nano robots can be programmed for rebuilding depleted ozone layers. Lesser pollution will be generated by manufacturing processes. There will be more dependence on non conventional but renewable energy sources.
The other wonders include Light emitting Diodes LED lights, bulletproof battle suits and catalytic converters.
Nanotechnology and COVID-19
Nanotechnology has a major role in the design of vaccines. These may be RNA vaccines or peptide based vaccines. The global pandemic of COVID-19 has caused a drastic setback to all life sectors around the globe in 2020 and calls up for nanotechnology to step in as a front line solution. The peptide based vaccine development from a plant virus and its testing is underway by Nano engineers in San Diego. Since this would be a plant based vaccine, the speed and scalability can be enhanced as it was done in case of Ebola vaccines during 2014.
Diminutive Debate over Nanotechnology
The enthusiastic concept of growing smaller may be an achievement but brings up a few potential warnings. Eric Drexler highlights the idea of losing control over nano-robots that begin self-replicating on losing human controls. Clear regulations need to be brought to light but science and technology are hiking at a much rapid phase than policy makers setting and implementing rules and regulations. This calls up for an informed debate over the benefits and the potential risks relating to nanotechnology.
It has been criticised that lesser is known about the negative risks of smaller particles but the defenders of the concept consider it a scaremongering and show inability to understand all the fear fuss.
Nanotubes overload have been accused of damaging rats lungs while BuckyBalls—a polymer of carbon—are notorious for causing fish brain damage.