Imagine looking at a drop of water from a pond through a microscope for the first time? A new world opens up of consisting of microbes and living things because of a simple lense which magnifies objects 200 times. Now imagine going even smaller to a world where the objects are one billionth of a metre in size. This is the world of nanoscience, a new science phenomenon which is creating a great deal of excitement amongst the scientific community.
Nanoscience and the use of nanotechnology are already impacting our lives through innovations such as stain-resistant fabrics, medical diagnostic devices and improvements to computer hard drives, battery storage and enhancing energy efficiency. In this article we explore what nanoscience is about and how scientists and engineers from several disciplines are using nanoscience principles to find solutions to problems in energy, medicine, information storage, computing and elsewhere.
Nanoscience is cross disciplinary, meaning scientists from a range of fields including chemistry, physics, biology, medicine, computing, materials science and engineering are studying it and using it to better understand our world. If you are interested in nanoscience then you can study in any area of science because nanoscience is here to stay. As we develop our knowledge of this field we will be able to work at smaller scales and develop solutions to problems in every field of science.
So what is Nano-science?
Nanoscience comes from the Greek “nanos” (or Latin “nanus”), which means “dwarf” and refers to one billionth of a meter, or a nanometer (nm). A single strand of DNA, the building block of all living things, is about three nanometers wide whereas a human hair is about 100,000 nanometers thick. According to science.org.au, nanoscience is the study of structures and materials on an ultra-small scale, and the unique and interesting properties these materials demonstrate.
Nanotechnology can be defined as ‘engineering at a very small scale’, and this term can be applied to many areas of research and development – from medicine to manufacturing to computing, and even to textiles and cosmetics. We are getting advanced enough to create things on a very small scale. Nano-science is about studying nano-materials and their properties, nanotechnology is about using the science to create new products and improve existing products and services. When structures are made small enough—in the nanometer size range—they can take on interesting and useful properties.
Because nanostructures are so small scientists have had to come up with innovative methods to manufacture objects in this size range. Scientists use beams of electrons or ions to cut nanostructures into metal, silicon and carbon-based materials for different purposes. They can form nanostructures by reacting chemicals in liquids and gases to generate nanofibers, nanocrystals and quantum dots, some as small as one nanometer wide.
Scientists are even learning how to build three-dimensional structures at the nanoscale, called nano-electro-mechanical systems, or NEMS. These devices might one day be used like microscopic robots to carry out tasks too small for humans to do themselves. For example, NEMS could carry out surgery on a single cell or act as mechanical actuators to move around individual molecules (http://tremblinguterus.blogspot.co.za).
Nanotechnology is helping to improve products across a range of areas, including medicine, energy, transportation, communications, environmental protection and manufacturing.
Nanotechnology in medicine involves applications of nanoparticles currently under development, as well as longer range research that involves the use of manufactured nano-robots to make repairs at the cellular level (sometimes referred to as nanomedicine). Naotechnologies very small and therefor far less invasive than other forms of medical procedures which require needles and operations. Nanoparticles are so small that they can be implanted inside the body, and their biochemical reaction times are much shorter (https://www.omicsonline.org).
The future means something far more ambitious, miniature submarines in the bloodstream, little cogs and gears made out of atoms, space elevators made of nanotubes, and the colonization of space. Nanorobots could actually be programmed to repair specific diseased cells, functioning in a similar way to antibodies in our natural healing processes.
One application currently being developed involves the use of nanoparticles to deliver drugs and heat to cancer cells. Nanoparticles are engineered so that they are attracted to cancer cells and this allows direct treatment to the site affected. Because this treatment is non-invasive it reduces the damage to healthy cells in the body and only the required drug dose is used so the side-effects are lowered significantly. This highly selective approach can reduce costs and pain to the patients. Clinical trials are underway to treat cancer patients, vaccines. http://www.understandingnano.com/medicine.html
One of the major challenges of our time is replacing fossil fuels such as oil, coal and gas with renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power. Solar energy is the conversion the photons from the sunlight into direct current by trapping the electrons and holes in a medium (say a silicon wafer). There are various generations of solar cells. 1st Generation Solar Cells which we see on our roofs and on panels for heating, use the conventional silicon wafer and silicon chips technology. o formulate the arrays. One can usually find them in rooftops and these find application in heating. However, their efficiency is practically low and also that it is heavy, bulky and occupies too much space.
They can only absorb a fraction of the radiation from the sun’s rays that is converted to electricity. Nano structured cells will only use about 1% of the materials used by traditional solar cells suggesting that nano-engineered solar cells could be significantly cheaper to produce and more efficient. They are also a lot more efficient at converting radiation into electrical energy thereby creating a sustainable solution for the use of solar energy and waste heat and lighting, and solve global energy problems. The invisible semiconductor wires play a crucial role in future production of LEDs, batteries and solar cells. Environment
Nanotechnology is being used in a range of energy areas—to improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of solar panels, create new kinds of batteries, improve the efficiency of fuel production using better catalysis, and create better lighting systems. Nanotechnology can help in developing new ecofriendly and green technologies that can minimize undesirable pollution.
Nano electronics means using nanotechnology in electronic components for electronic and computer applications, providing smaller, faster and more portable systems. These systems can manage and store more and more information. Think of your cell phone today and power and storage it has is ever increasing due to nanotechnology. Todays computer microprocessors have less than 100 nanometers (nm) features. The smaller sizes mean a significant increase in speed and more processing capability. Nanoelectronics incorporates polymer films known as organic light-emitting diodes or OLEDs , where OLED screens offer brighter consumption, and longer lifetimes. Think of how display screens on electronics devices have been improved through the reduction of the weight and the thickness of the screens.
These advances will undoubtedly help achieve better computers increasing the capabilities of electronics devices while reducing their weight and power consumption.
However, at some point in time (very near in the future) current electronic technology will no longer be enough to handle the demand for new chips microprocessors. Right now, the method for chip manufacturing is known as lithography or etching. By this technology, a probe literally writes over a surface the chip circuit. This way of building circuits in electronic chips has a limitation of around 22 nanometers (most advanced chip processors uses 60-70 nm size features). Below 22 nm errors will occur and short circuits and silicon limitations will prevent chip manufacturing.
Nanotechnology may offer new ways of working for electronics. Nanotechnology science is developing new circuit materials, new processors, new means of storing information and new manners of transferring information. Nanotechnology can offer greater versatility because of faster data transfer, more “on the go" processing capabilities and larger data memories.
A new field is emerging in electronics is quantum computing and quantum technology an area of scientific knowledge based on the principles of quantum theory. In quantum computing the “qbit" is used instead of the traditional bit of information. A bit can assume two values: 1 and 0.whereas the new “qbit" is able to process anything between 0 and 1. This implies that new types of calculations and high processing speeds can be achieved www.brighthubengineering.com
Recently, the first quantum computer has been built in the United States and is said to achieve unseen processing speeds to the tune of a billion times per second, making this the fastest chip on earth.
Nanotechnology can help in developing new ecofriendly and green technologies that can minimize undesirable pollution. For example, nanoparticles can be added to diesel fuel to help the fuel burn better in the engine and with result of achieving more kilometres per litre or fuel. Because the fuel burns more efficiently, there is less effluent coming out of the exhaust pipe.
Nanomaterials used to build cars and aeroplanes are lighter and stronger, so using less fuel and fewer metals. Nanotechnologies may not only lighten the aircraft to produce fuel savings, but also do so by adding nanoparticles to the fuel of a conventional jet, significantly increasing its efficiency. Graphene, for example, is a carbon sheet the thickness of a single atom, yet it is stronger than traditional products such as steel and alloys used in traditional vehicle production. In addition graphene possesses a huge range of useful properties, such as electrical conductivity, absorption of white light, and tolerance to temperature and pH change. (http://www.pauley.co.uk/blog/nanotechnology-in-transport).
Developing nanomaterials for the transport industries is a vital route forward to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from this huge sector, which produces a quarter of all the EU’s emissions. How? By making planes, trains and other vehicles lighter and modifying their surfaces and components to save on fuel—and potentially by completely changing the fuels they use.
Smart, multifunctional coatings on the surface of vehicles on the nanoscale can reduce friction increasing durability at the same time. These coatings are already being used on turbine blades and mechanical components of aircraft. Nano-coatings could be applied to surfaces to reduce stop dirt, scratches, bacteria, rain and mist from settling.
Undoubtedly, nanotechnology is going to be the future, as studies are going on in diversifying the technology from materials with dimensions in nano scale to materials in dimensions of atomic scale. Some new methods like molecular self-assembly have been developed to make this possible. There may be a future when all the common basic needs like food, shelter and even costly diamonds will be made by nanorobots.
Each development teaches us something about the technology, what it is capable of, and how we can refine it further. These developments are just the beginning.
Nanoscience is all about the ultra-small, but it has the potential to have an enormous impact on our lives. We are already using and enjoying many products enhanced with nanotechnology, but it is the potential to revolutionise fields such as medicine, or to help solve some of the world’s difficult environmental problems, that makes the future of nanoscience and nanotechnology most exciting.
Read more on, what is a nanoscientist or nanotechnologist here.