Nanotechnology involves the understanding, manipulation, and control of matter at dimensions of roughly 1 to 100 nanometers. Nanotechnology encompasses science, engineering, and technology and involves imaging, measuring, modeling, and manipulating matter at the nanoscale. The development of unique nanoscale structures has the potential to revolutionize various industries.
The CPGGH study ranks the nanotechnology applications having an impact in the areas of water, agriculture, nutrition, health, energy, and the environment in the coming years.
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The experts reckon the top nanotechnology applications are:
Nano-materials are being used to build alternate energy sources mainly producing energy from
- Air Pollution (Hydrogen) and
- Human Motion
Researchers at the University of Antwerp and the University of Leuven in Belgium have devised an alternative method for producing hydrogen that has the potential to reorient our approach to solving several global environmental problems. Similarly, researchers at Vanderbilt University have built a system that can harvest electricity from human motion. This system uses sheets of black phosphorus that are only a few atoms thick. Bending or pressing the black phosphorous nanosheets produces a small electrical current that can be harvested and stored in a battery.
Repairing Spinal Cord Injuries
The researchers at Northwestern used nanotechnology to eliminate the secondary nerve damage that follows a spinal cord injury. Researchers at Ohio State University have developed an extraordinary procedure using a different type of nanotechnology that may prove capable of repairing the initial injury itself. The procedure is called tissue nanotransfection (TNT) and it not only repairs damaged tissue, but it can also restore function to aging tissue.
Food and Agriculture
Nanotechnology is rapidly converging with biotech and information technology to radically change food and agricultural systems. Over the next two decades, the impacts of nano-scale convergence on farmers and food could even exceed that of farm mechanization or of the Green Revolution according to some sources such as the ETC group24.
Food and nutrition products containing nano-scale additives are already commercially available. According to Helmut Kaiser Consultancy, some 200 transnational food companies are currently investing in nanotech and are on their way to commercializing products25. The US leads, followed by Japan and China.
Nano-membranes and nano-clays are inexpensive, portable, and easily cleaned systems that purify, detoxify, and desalinate water more efficiently than conventional bacterial and viral filters. Researchers also have developed a method of large-scale production of carbon nano-tube filters for water quality improvement. Other water applications include systems (based on titanium dioxide and on magnetic nanoparticles) that decompose organic pollutants and remove salts and heavy metals from liquids, enabling the use of heavily contaminated and saltwater for irrigation and drinking. Several of the contaminating substances retrieved could then be easily recycled.
Disease Diagnosis and Screening
Technologies including the “lab-on-a-chip”, offer all the diagnostic functions of a medical laboratory, and other biosensors based on nanotubes, wires, magnetic particles, and semiconductor crystals (quantum dots). These inexpensive, hand-held diagnostic kits detect the presence of several pathogens at once and are being used for wide-range screening in peripheral clinics. Other nanotechnology applications are in development that would greatly enhance medical imaging.
Drug Delivery Systems
Nano-capsules, dendrimers (tiny bush-like spheres made of branched polymers), and “buckyballs” (soccerball-shaped structures made of 60 carbon atoms) for slow, sustained drug release systems, characteristics valuable for countries without adequate drug storage capabilities and distribution networks. Nanotechnology can also potentially reduce transportation costs and even required dosages by improving shelf-life, thermo-stability, and resistance to changes in humidity of existing medications.
Nanoscience has already been producing stain and wrinkle-resistant clothing, and future developments will focus on upgrading existing functions and performances of textile materials; including developing “smart” textiles with unprecedented functions such as:
- Sensors and information acquisition and transfer
- Multiple and sophisticated protection and detection, health-care and wound-healing functions
- Self-cleaning and repair functions.
The next step in nanotechnology | George Tulevski
Nano-molecular structures to make asphalt and concrete more resistant to water; materials to block ultraviolet and infrared radiation; materials for cheaper and durable housing, surfaces, coatings, glues, concrete, and heat and light exclusion; and self-cleaning for windows, mirrors, and toilets.
Nano-devices are being developed to keep track of daily changes in physiological variables such as the levels of glucose, carbon dioxide, and cholesterol, without the need for drawing blood in a hospital setting. For example, patients suffering from diabetes would know at any given time the concentration of sugar in their blood; similarly, patients with heart diseases would be able to monitor their cholesterol levels constantly.
A life without nanotechnology is hard to imagine today as nanotechnologies – to be more specific: nanomaterials – are being used in numerous products and industrial applications mentioned above and continues to grow with researchers constantly seeking improvements.