By Rajat Sharma:
If I ask you the similarity between sunscreen lotions, a car mirror, and an anti-bacterial wound dressing, then, like any other normal person, you would be too puzzled to respond. But to everyone’s amazement, they all do have a very unique similarity that cannot be seen in their appearance or usage but can only be understood by getting deep into their chemical structure where an ocean of atoms and molecules lie. And the conquest of this ocean made our scientists induce a similarity between these products and enabled them to introduce a new branch of science called Nanoscience or Nanotechnology.
The ideas and concepts behind nanoscience and nanotechnology started with a talk entitled “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom” by physicist Richard Feynman at an American Physical Society meeting at the Institute of Technology on December 29, 1959, California long before the term nanotechnology was used. In his talk, Feynman described a process in which scientists would be able to manipulate and control individual atoms and molecules. Over a decade later, in his explorations of ultra-precision machining, Professor Norio Taniguchi coined the term Nanotechnology.
Although modern nanoscience and nanotechnology are quite new, nanoscale materials were used for centuries.
Alternate-sized gold and silver particles created colors in the stained glass windows of medieval churches hundreds of years ago. The artists back then just didn’t know that the process they used to create these beautiful works of art actually led to changes in the composition of the materials they were working with.
Today, scientists and researchers in this field are discovering new behaviors and properties of materials with dimensions at the nanoscale which ranges roughly from 1 to 100 nanometers (nm), where the particles at nanoscale are known as nano-particles. The properties of materials are usually different on a nanoscale for the two main reasons:
– Nanomaterials have relatively larger surface area than the same mass of material produced in larger form.
– Quantum effects below the range of 50 nm: It provokes optical, electrical and magnetic behaviors different from those of the same material at a larger scale.
Such effects can give materials very useful physical properties such as exceptional electrical conduction or resistance, or a high capacity for storing or transferring heat, and can even modify biological properties, for example, silver behaves as a bactericide on a nanoscale.
In the past, medical treatments have been the result of adopting those techniques that worked and discarding those that didn’t. Today, the improved knowledge of how the body functions at the cellular level is leading to many new and better medical techniques.
For example, we know that the earlier a disease can be detected, the easier it is to remedy. To achieve this, research is focusing on introducing into the body specially designed nanoparticles. These nanoparticles are composed of tiny fluorescent ‘quantum dots’ that are ‘bound’ to target antibodies. In turn, these antibodies bind to diseased cells. When this happens, the quantum dots fluoresce brightly. This fluorescence can be picked up by new, specially developed, advanced imaging systems, enabling the accurate pinpointing of a disease even at a very early stage.
Nanotechnology offers some really exciting breakthroughs in environmentally friendly technologies. Examples range from extracting renewable energy from the sun to the prevention of pollution.
Not only do we need new ways of generating energy, we need better ways of storing it. Nanotechnology is leading to improved, environmentally-friendly batteries and supercapacitors. We also need to reduce damage to the environment. Particularly toxic are those chemicals that we use as solvents. Nanotechnology is leading to their eradication through the development new nano-coatings and nano-structured surfaces that can effectively repel dirt and other contaminants.
Coating metals which prevent corrosion also seriously affect the environment. New smart nanocoatings are in the process of being developed that are non-toxic and highly effective. Serious contamination of the environment with heavy metals and other pollutants are thrown into the atmosphere from the fumes and smoke being emitted from industrial processes. It is encouraging noting that most of these particles and gases (including carbon dioxide) can be ‘scrubbed’ out – and even reclaimed and reused, using specially functionalized nanomaterials, placed in the waste gas stream.
The impact of nanotechnology is expanding and nothing will remain untouched. Applications are enormous and limitless. Nanotechnology enables in doing things better than conventional technology. For example:
– Surface coatings consisting of nanomaterials become scratch proof, weather proof, more durable, better shining and dirt repellant.
– Nanotechnology can enable drugs to destroy cancer or tumor without any side-effects.
– Nanotubes pacemakers placed in the heart blood vessels could generate electricity for heart function. Nanosized robots can repair damaged and diseased tissues.
– Converting sunlight into power, cleaning the pond water for drinking, creating sensor in the form of biochips to be planted in human body are the major breakthroughs of nanotechnology.
– Nanosized titanium dioxide is used in cosmetics, sunscreens, creams, and lotions, which become more durable.
– Clothes can block chemical and biological weapons from touching the skin. Nanotechnology can help detect narcotics and finger prints of suspects in crime.
– Nano assembled monolayer could be coated on to the fibres of the apparel so that it does not attract dirt and becomes self-cleaning and germ free.
– There are enormous applications in computers to increase memory and speed. It is said that computers will run fast, medicines will cure all diseases, and pollution could be eliminated with the application of nanotechnology. The applications are immense, and it is predicted that it is going to revolutionize the industrial world in the 21st century.
With the above stated innovations and advancement happening in this field, one can easily forecast the development and opportunities it would be bringing for our forthcoming generations in future.