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  • Nanotechnology: Origin to Scope

    It is today’s necessity to know the origin and sense of the word “Nanotechnology”, which comes frequently in front of us in technology exhibitions, science shows, newspapers, magazines, television gossip, etc. Nano means one billionth, so in length scale nanometer stands for one billionth parts of a meter. On a comparative scale, if a glass marble ball became one nanometer in size than the size of the earth would be one meter. We are not new for nano; nature is full of materials possessing at least one of their dimensions in the nanoscale regime such as smoke particles, volcanic ash, dust, microbes in biological systems, cell organelles, proteins, DNA, RNA, and so on. Even human beings have been using and manufacturing nanomaterials unknowingly.

    For example, we have been coloring glass and ceramics for a couple of millennia. In the middle of the nineteenth century, Michael Faraday discovered that the colors of these glass matrices are due to the presence of very tiny gold particles. On December, 1959, when Richard Feynman was addressing people about “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom”, no one knew that one day it would become the milestone for ideas and concepts behind Nanoscience and Nanotechnology. Over a decade later in 1974, Norio Taniguchi expressed the atom-by-atom or molecule-by-molecule approach to manipulate the materials and coined the term “Nanotechnology”. Later, the end of the twentieth century became witness to modern nanotechnology, when Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer demonstrated direct visualization of atom-by-atom manipulation using self-developed scanning microscope at IBM laboratory and received a Nobel Prize in 1986.

    Now nanotechnology is penetrating in all the field of science and technology, it is helping us to substantially advance, even revolutionize various sectors: healthcare, energy, electronics, food safety, environmental science, space science, fabric, cosmetics, clean water, information technology, defense technology, and transportation, among many others. Nanotechnology with the help of medical and biotechnology tools has been used to diagnose, image and deliver the drug to diseased cell of human body. In multifunctional therapeutics, nanotechnology offers a platform to expedite its specific targeting to cancer tissue and delivery of an effective treatment, with minimal damage to normal cells. Microfluidic chip nanolabs based concept comes under the umbrella of nanotechnology to monitor and manipulate the performance of individual cell.

    Nano integrated sensors are being established to detect the lethal microbes like salmonella, and other contaminates on eatables before packaging and consumption. Nano materials in cosmetic items such as sunscreens, cleansers, complexion treatments, creams, lotions, shampoos, and specialized makeup are useful by providing the large surface coverage, deep cleaning, absorption, antioxidant, anti-microbial, and other beneficial properties.

    To meet the world’s energy demand, nanotechnology provides sustainable solutions. For example, nanotechnology incorporated solar panels are more efficient than traditional ones. According to scientists the future nano-based solar panels might be “paintable”. Similarly, nano-bioengineering is developing ethanol as a fuel from cellulose, which comes from wood, corn stalk, grass, etc. Nano based light emitting systems are efficient to reduce energy consumption for illumination. In fuel cell technology, nano materials is being utilized to reduce the cost of production of hydrogen ions from fuel such as methanol, and to improve the efficiency of membranes to separate hydrogen ions for better performance of a fuel cell.

    Nanotechnology has stakes in environmental remediation. We have nanomaterials that detect and clean up environmental contaminant and provide clean drinking water. Modern nanotechnology-equipped sensors and solutions are able to sense, recognize, and separate out or neutralize unsafe chemical/biological agents from air, water and soil with much higher efficiency than is possible in present days. Nanotechnology is now vastly applicable in computing and information technology to provide faster, smaller, and more portable systems that can manage, process and store larger quantities of information.

    Nano electronics that are faster, more powerful, and progressively energy efficient helps us store our entire computer’s memory on a single minute chip. The picture displays for many devices such as television, laptop, computers, mobile phones, tablets and cameras integrates nanostructured polymer films recognized as organic light-emitting diodes, or OLEDs. These OLEDs offer high definition images in a flat plan, wider viewing angles, portable, low power consumption and long lifetimes.

    Nano-composite ceramic materials display much superior toughness than conventional materials for mechanical tools. For example, polymer nano-composite has improved thermal, mechanical, light weight and barrier properties and can be used in food and beverage packaging, fuel reservoirs for aircraft and automobiles, and in aerospace components. Fabrics have been treated with nano materials to make them wrinkle resist, staining resist, water replant, anti-bacterial, and lightweight ballistic resistance body armor.

    Despite, all three-dimensional spread of the nanotechnology in the field of science and technology, it has huge unexplored area for development, which unwraps the basket of future opportunities to our curious youth.

    About the Author:
    Udit Soni, Faculty, Department of Biotechnology, TERI University

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