This article provides an overview of Nanotechnology including how it was discovered, why its study and research is necessary, what are its applications, and future advancements. Let’s start by understanding what nanotechnology is. The word ‘Nanotechnology’ is derived from two words – Nano, and technology where Nano means extremely small. Nanotechnology refers to the study and application of matters related to science, engineering, and technology at the nanoscale with dimensions between approximately 1 and 100 nanometers.
Discovery of Nanotechnology
Nanotechnology was first introduced in 1959 by an American physicist ‘Richard Feynman’. He discussed the ideas and concepts behind nanoscience and nanotechnology in his talk entitled ‘There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom’ in an American Physical Society meeting at the California Institute of Technology (CalTech). Feynman described the possibility of synthesis via direct manipulation of atoms and discussed how scientists would be able to manipulate and control individual atoms and molecules.
However, some say that the term Nanotechnology was coined in 1974 by Norio Taniguichi from the Tokyo Science University to describe semiconductor processes such as thin-film deposition that deal with control on the order of nanometers. The formal definition of Nanotechnology as stated by Norio is–“Nano-technology mainly consists of the processing of separation, consolidation, and deformation of materials by one atom or one molecule”.
In short and simple words, Nanotechnology refers to the scientific study and research of the properties of atoms and molecules. Everything on Earth is made up of atoms. However, the size of an atom is so small that it cannot be seen with naked eyes. During the early 1980s, special microscopes were invented including the scanning tunneling microscope (STM) and the atomic force microscope (AFM), to study objects as small as an atom. These microscopes are specifically used for the study of nano particles and can help in evaluating and researching the properties inside an atom or materials at nanoscale.
Relevance of Nanoscale Materials
It has been observed that the physical, chemical and biological properties of a cluster of several matters including their color, strength, conductivity, and reactivity are different as compared to the properties of the same matter at a single-molecule scale. For example, carbon nanotubes are less chemically reactive than carbon atoms and combine the characteristics of the two naturally occurring bulk forms of carbon, strength (diamond) and electrical conductivity (graphite). Also, carbon nanotubes are 100 times stronger than steel but six times lighter in weight. Therefore, nanotechnology studies the unique properties of matter at the nanoscale to develop new capabilities with potential applications across all fields of science, engineering, technology, and medicine.
Applications of Nanotechnology
Nanotechnology has several applications and has contributed to the revolution of several technological and industrial sectors including information technology, homeland security, medicine, transportation, energy, food safety, environmental science, and several others. Some revolutionary applications in leading sectors are:
Commercial Products and Processes:
Clear Nanoscale films are used on eyeglasses, mobile/computer screens, camera displays, windows, and similar surfaces. It enables to provide much better results and features including water repellent, residue repellent, antimicrobial, scratch resistance, UV protection, anti-fog, anti-reflective, and several other advanced features. Nanoscale materials are also being used to produce lightweight cars, trucks, aircraft, boats, spacecraft, and other vehicles. This could lead to lesser consumption of fuels.
In addition to this, the next-generation air vehicles will use carbon nanotube sheets that will provide electromagnetic shielding and thermal management. Nanotechnology is also being implemented in various skincare and personal use products. For instance, nanoscale titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are used in sunscreens to provide extra protection from the harmful UV rays of the sun and are also lightweight.
The application of nanotechnology in medicine has helped the healthcare industry to provide advanced diagnosis measures and treatment of diseases. Nanotechnology has enabled better imaging and diagnostic tools providing more accurate diagnosis and imaging. Medical researchers and scientists are investigating gold nanoparticles as potential treatments for critical life-threatening diseases such as cancer.
Nanotechnology could one day, provide breakthroughs assisting in the diagnosis and treatment of atherosclerosis, development of novel gene sequencing technologies, develop several different therapeutics to directly treat the cancer cells, and reduce the side effects of chemotherapy.
Environment Conservation Applications
Global warming is a major concern that can be observed with constant changes in weather, extreme air pollution, cyclones, disasters, and other changes. People are constantly adopting environment-friendly measures and switching to bio-degradable products and electric vehicles. Nanotechnology contributes in several ways to assist in implementing environment-friendly practices. It could assist in rapid, low-cost detection and treatment of impurities in water. A thin film membrane made of molybdenum disulfide (MoS2) and nanopores has recently been developed to provide energy-efficient desalination.
Additionally, using nanotechnology, researchers and scientists have also developed nano fabric ‘paper towels’ made from tiny wires of potassium manganese oxide. These nano fabric towels can absorb 20 times their weight in oil for cleanup applications. Most air filters these days have been developed using nanotechnology that allows mechanical filtration.
Future of Nanotechnology
To date, several advancements have been made using nanoscale materials. For instance, the first hard disk that was created by IBM in 1956 was the size of a refrigerator with a total storage capacity of just 5MB. It required at least 3-4 people to move that hard disk and had to be transported in a vehicle. Currently, hard disks come with a sleek and lightweight design with a much more storage capacity. Another great example of emerging nanotechnology solutions is wearable fitness gadgets. With the help of nanoscale materials, several gadgets have been introduced in the market like a smart watch, smart band, fitness tracker, and several others that can monitor our health and body. With such great and successful advancements and implications, research and study on nanoscience and nanotechnology will continue to grow in the future.