Nanotechnology is the study of controlling matter on an atomic and molecular scale, i.e., at a size of 1-100 nanometer (1 billionth of a metre), and it involves developing material or devices within that size. Nanoscience is the behavioural study of matter at atomic and molecular scale.
Manipulating matter at atomic scale is challenging as matter behaves differently at such small scales and its force become more important here. Therefore, nanotechnology involves developing capabilities to exercise control over matter at small scales under such constraints.
The term ‘nanotechnology’ was defined by the Japanese scientist, Prof. Norio Taniguchi in 1974.
The idea was explored much more deeply by Eric Drexler, who promoted the technological significance of nano-scale phenomena and devices. He wrote the book Engines of Creation in 1986, which is considered to be the first book on the topic of nanotechnology. Eric Drexler described the large variety of possible applications for nanotechnology. However, he called for an attention to one major practical challenges that must be overcome by scientists if nano-technology is to become practical, which is a device that can provide control over matter at atomic scales.
Nanotechnology got started in the practical sense in the early 1982s with the invention of the Scanning Tunneling Microscope (STM). The Atomic Force Microscope (AFM) was invented six years after the inception of STM. In the course of these inventions, carbon nano-tubes were invented.
Application of Nanotechnology
Practical nanotechnology is the ability of manipulate (with precision) matter on previously impossible scales, presenting possibilities which many could never have imagined it. Therefore, it seems unsurprising that few areas of human technology are exempt from the benefits which nanotechnology could potentially bring.
- Medicine: Nanotechnology can be used in medical diagnosis. Nano-sized robots can be used for precise delivery of drugs to intended locations in the body. They can be used to repair damaged and diseased tissues.
- Information and Communication: Nanotechnology can help create highly efficient computer systems. Nano-sized semiconductor devices (transistors) in computers can be used to increase both memory and speed by several orders. More data can be stored in smaller space. Because of the smaller size, energy consumption and heating is also relatively less.
- Energy: Nanotechnology can make energy production, distribution and consumption more efficient and therefore, it more eco-friendly and less costly. For instance, solar cells with nanotechnology are being developed. These solar cells are even used today. Fuel cells can be made more efficient. Nanotechnological approaches could lead to a huge reduction in energy consumption.
- Environment : Nanotechnology can be put to use in filtration systems with the help of with the help of nano-scale particles. Nano-filtration increases the efficiency to absorb contaminants and is comparatively inexpensive when compared to traditional precipitation and filtration methods. Low-cost water purifies that use nanotechnology are already available in the market.
- Industry: Cleaner and more efficient manufacturing processes can be invented. New types of catalysts can increase the efficiency of industrial processes. Nanotechnology can help produce higher and stronger materials. Automobiles are made from lighter and stronger nano-materials can be lighter, requires less energy, pollute less and therefore, more eco-friendly. This technology can be used in aircrafts and spacecrafts as well.
- Security, Intelligence and Military: Nanotechnology can help detect narcotics and finger prints of suspects in crime. Novel devices and techniques based on nanotechnology can be invented for uses by intelligence and security agencies in surveillance, investigations, espionage, etc.
- Agriculture:Recent scientific data indicate that nanotechnology has the potential to positively impact the agrifood sector, minimizing adverse problems of agricultural practices on environment and human health, improving food security and productivity (as required by the predicted rise in global population), while promoting social and economic equity.Among others, nanomaterials for controlled-release of nutrients, pesticides and fertilizers in crops are described as well as nanosensors for agricultural practices, food quality and safety.
Though nanotechnology is expected to provide many benefits to mankind, there are potential risks that can broadly be grouped into three areas that are as follows:
- Health Issues: The extremely small size of nanomaterials means they are much more readily taken up by the human body than large-sized particles. Nano-sized particles may overload immune system and trigger inflammatory reactions. Nono-sized particles may toxicity. Non-degradable or slowly degradable nanoparticles can accumulate in organs. Nanoparticles may interfere with biological processes inside the body.
- Environmental Issues: Nanoparticles may cause nono-pollution. Non-pollution is a generic name for all waste generated by nano-devices or during the nanomaterials manufacturing process. This kind of waste may be very dangerous because of its side effects. It can float in the air and might easily penetrate animal and plant cells causing unknown effects.
- Societal Issues: As all the latest technologies are usually available first to the better off segments of society, nanotechnology may result in creation of a ‘nano-divide’ (just like digital divide). However, nanotechnology makes the production of technology, for example, computers, cellular phones, health technology, etc., are cheaper and therefore, accessible to the poor. Nanotechnology can quicken the pace of life and this may cause social change.
- Loss of Jobs: Included in the list of disadvantages of this science and its development is the possible loss of jobs in the traditional farming and manufacturing industry