"The impact of nanotechnology on the health, wealth, and lives of people will be at least the equivalent of the combined influences of microelectronics, medical imaging, computer-aided engineering, and man-made polymers developed in this century."
— Richard Smalley, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry
June 1999; On the Benefits of Nanotechnology
Nanotechnology is the manipulation of conventional materials at the molecular level to produce nanomaterials, which are comprised of nano-sized particles less than 100 nanometers in diameter. Nanoparticles are invisible to the unaided eye. Most conventional materials are comprised of particles that range in size from microns (1,000 nanometers) to millimeters (100,000 nanometers). Nanomaterials are comprised of particles ranging in size from 1 to 100 nanometers, giving these materials unique chemical, physical, and biological properties.
What is Nanoscience? Nanoscience is the study of structures and materials on the scale of nanometers. A nanometer is a very small unit of measurement. Here are a few comparative examples to help illustrate the relative size of a nanometer.
- There are 25,400,000 nanometers in one inch
- A sheet of paper is about 100,000 nanometers thick
- The diameter of a human hair is about 80,000 to 100,000 nanometers
When conventional materials are engineered, designed, and constructed at the nanoscale, they can take on interesting and useful properties. For example, carbon 'nanotubes' are 100 times stronger than steel but six times lighter. At the molecular level, nanomaterials are chemically and structurally identical to the conventional materials from which they were derived. Although nanomaterials are derived from the same materials as conventional materials, they exhibit novel characteristics such as increased strength, durability, conductivity, and chemical resistance.
Scientists and engineers have been manipulating and working with nanoparticles for centuries, but until recently, there was no technology available to see the structure of nanoparticles. In recent decades, scientists have developed power microscopes and other imaging technologies capable of displaying particles as small as individual atoms and molecules. By engineering and manipulating conventional materials at the nanoscale, conventional chemical and physical properties of the materials can be drastically altered. For instance, the physical and chemical characteristics of a conventional material such as its color, durability, conductivity, and reactivity can differ substantially between the macroscale and the nanoscale.
Nanoscience & Nanotechnology
Nanoscience & Nanotechnology have promising potential to increase energy efficiency, decrease waste and energy consumption, reduce air pollution, make surfaces cleaner, and solve major health problems. Nanotechnology holds the promise of new solutions to environmental and economic problems central to developing countries, especially those related to public health, sanitation, and food security. Nanomaterials will be smaller and lighter than conventional materials, yet they will be more durable and functional and require less energy and fewer raw materials to manufacture.
Innovative manufacturing methods are being developed to produce new nanomaterials and nanostructures to help solve global environmental challenges. Scientists use instruments such as electron beams to precisely cut features as small as 25 nanometers into metal, silicon, and carbon-based materials. Nanomaterials can also be engineered as liquid coatings with unique physical, chemical, and biological properties. Nanocoatings can be created by reacting chemicals in liquids and gases to generate nanofibers, nanocrystals, and quantum dots, which can be less than one nanometer in diameter.
Nanotechnology has already produced innovations such as stain-resistant fabrics, inspired by the lotus plant, and computer hard drives, which use magnetic storage strips only 20 nanometers thick. Scientists and engineers from many different disciplines use nanoscience principles and technology for advanced applications in energy, medicine, computer science, and chemical engineering. Although technological breakthroughs are difficult to predict, the future of nanoscience will likely move beyond atomic assembly of nanomaterials to larger-scale macroscopic structures with evolving properties and multiple functions.
Nanotechnology is a field of research and innovation concerned with building 'things' - typically, materials and devices - on the scale of atoms and molecules. The ability to see nano-sized materials has opened up a world of possibilities in a variety of industries and scientific endeavors. Because nanotechnology is a set of techniques that allow manipulation of properties at a microscopic scale, it can have many applications:
- Air pollution – The application of nanotechnology has improved the performance of catalysts used in air purification systems. Nanotechnology has also been used to improve the performance of catalysts used in photocatalytic coatings. Nanoparticles provide a much greater surface area for contaminants to interact with the catalysts, making catalysts more effective at reducing air pollution.
- Anti-graffiti coatings – Nanocoatings have been developed for a wide range of building materials to prevent and easily remove unwanted graffiti. Two different types of anti-graffiti coatings exist. One coating prevents graffiti from adhering to the surface and the other coating enables the graffiti to be easily removed from surfaces.
- Automotive industry – Application of nanocoatings in the automotive industry has resulted in more fuel efficient cars. Nanocoatings have also been developed for car paint, making paint more abrasion and corrosion resistant, as well as providing self-cleaning properties.
- Batteries – Nanotechnology is currently being used for the development of advanced battery cells. Batteries made with nanomaterials can last substantially longer than conventional batteries and can be recharged much faster.
- Consumer electronics – Recent advancements in nanomaterials have provided manufacturers the technology to improve the capabilities of a wide variety of electronic devices. Nanomaterials have enhanced the capabilities of electronics devices such as making them more energy efficient, lighter weight, more durable, waterproof, and wear resistant.
- Hydrophobic coatings – Nanotechnology has been used to develop ultrathin coatings that can be applied to a wide variety of surfaces to make them super hydrophobic. The use of super hydrophobic nanocoatings during the manufacturing of consumer electronics has produced products with superior waterproof technology. Hydrophobic nanocoatings have also been used in the textile industry to produce waterproof and stain-resistant fabrics.
- Self-cleaning coatings – Recent advancements in nanocoating technology has enable the development of novel coatings that provide “self-cleaning” properties to surfaces. These self-cleaning coatings can be applied to a wide variety of surfaces to help keep them cleaner, reducing cleaning frequency and cost. Treated surfaces repel oil, dirt, and debris and are easily cleaned with water.
- Textiles – Nanotechnology has been used widely in the textile industry to enhance properties of fabric without altering the appearance or breathability of the materials. Nanoparticles and nanofibers have been used on textiles to improve properties such as making them more stain resistant, hydrophobic, oleophobic, UV resistant, and antimicrobial resistant.
- Thermal barriers – Nanocoatings have been used the enhance the performance of thermal barriers in the aviation and transportation industries. Nanocoated thermal barriers allows metallic surfaces to operate under higher temperatures while reducing thermal exposure to the functional components.
- Food production – Advancements in nanotechnology may hold the key to solving potential future shortages in global food production. Nanotechnology is being used in all aspects of food production from enhancing crop production to providing more efficient methods of food packaging and preservation. Nanomaterials have also been used to enhance the quality of food crops and its nutrient content.
- Pharmaceuticals – Major medical advancements have been made in recent years with the use of engineered nanoparticles to deliver medicine to targeted cells in the body. These customized nanoparticles are highly effective in delivery of medicine to specific cells in the body that are cancerous or diseased. Unlike chemotherapy, nanomedicine does not harm healthy cells.
- Solar panels – Recent advancements in nanotechnology will make solar panels more energy efficient and will prolong their longevity. Nanomaterials will enable manufacturers to produce solar panels at a substantially lower cost than conventional panels. Nano-thin coatings have also been developed to keep solar panels functioning at optimal performance by providing anti-static and self-cleaning properties to the surface.
- Space exploration – The use of nanomaterials to manufacture more durable, lightweight spacecraft components will reduce the cost of space travel and exploration. Lighter spacecraft will require less rocket fuel to reach orbit and travel in space, making future space exploration more practical and achievable.
- Water pollution – Nanoparticles have been used to enhance the treatment and removal of contaminants in water and industrial waste. Nanoparticles are more effective than conventional methods at enhancing chemical reactions to convert harmful pollutants into harmless byproducts such as water vapor and carbon dioxide.