What is nanotechnology?
Nanotechnology is the application of scientific and engineering principles to make and utilize very small things. How small? Not as small as atoms or molecules, but much smaller than anything you can see. Nanotechnology is different from older technologies because many materials exhibit surprising and useful properties when their size is reduced far enough. Researchers who try to understand the fundamentals of these size-dependent properties call their work nanoscience, while those focusing on how to effectively use the properties call their work nanoengineering.
What is the nanoscale?
Practically speaking, the nanoscale ranges from about 1 nanometer (nm) to 100 nanometers. The top and bottom of the scale are hard to define sharply, but are chosen to exclude individual atoms on the lower end and things you might see with a very good optical microscope on the upper end.
What is a nanometer?
A nanometer is one billionth of a meter. (A meter is about 10% longer than a yard.) The prefix “nano” means “one billionth”, or 10-9, in the international system for units of weights and measure.
Is nanotechnology new? Where did it come from?
Yes and no. There are isolated examples of discoveries that we might now call nanotechnology going back 50 years or even more. We know that nanoscale gold was used in stained glass and ceramics as far back as the 10th Century, but it took 10 more centuries before high-powered microscopes were invented that allowed us to see things at the nanoscale and begin to work with materials at that level.
Nanotechnology as we now know it began about twenty years ago, when science and engineering extended into the nanoscale from both above and below. Around the turn of the millennium, research managers in the world observed that physicists, biologists, chemists, electrical engineers, optical engineers, and materials scientists were working on interlocking issues at the nanoscale.
What are nanomaterials? Are they new? Do they exist in nature?
Nanomaterials is a term that includes all nanosized materials, including engineered nanoparticles, incidental nanoparticles and other nano-objects, like those that exist in nature.
When particles are purposefully manufactured with nanoscale dimensions, we call them engineered nanoparticles. There are two other ways nanoparticles are formed. Nanoparticles can occur as a byproduct of combustion, industrial manufacturing, and other human activities; these are known as incidental nanoparticles. Natural processes, such as sea spray and erosion, can also create nanoparticles.
Many important functions of living organisms take place at the nanoscale. The human body uses natural nanoscale materials, such as proteins and other molecules, to control the body’s many systems and processes. A typical protein such as hemoglobin, which carries oxygen through the bloodstream, is 5 nms in diameter.
What are nanoparticles, nanotubes, and nanofilms?
These are different types of nanomaterials, named for their individual shapes and dimensions. Think of these simply as particles, tubes, and films that have one or more nanosized dimension. Nanoparticles are bits of a material in which all three dimensions of the particle are within the nanoscale. Nanotubes have a diameter that’s nanosize, but can be several hundred nanometers (nm) long or even longer. Nanofilms or nanoplates have a thickness that’s nanosize, but their other two dimensions can be quite large.
What is a nanostructured material?
A nanostructured material has internal structure that is within the 1 to100 nanometer (nm) range, while the pieces of material themselves are larger than 100 nm.
Where is nanotechnology used today?
Nanotechnology is used in many commercial products and processes. Nanomaterials are used to add strength to composite materials used to make lightweight tennis rackets, baseball bats, and bicycles. Nanostructured catalysts are used to make chemical manufacturing processes more efficient, saving energy and reducing the waste products. A few pharmaceutical products have been reformulated with nanosized particles to improve their absorption and make them easier to administer. Opticians apply nanocoatings to eyeglasses to make them easier to keep clean and harder to scratch. Nanomaterials are applied as coatings on fabrics to make clothing stain resistant and easy to care for. Several companies make nanostructured products using space-saving insulators that are useful when size and weight is at a premium—for example, when insulating long pipelines in remote places, or trying to reduce heating losses in a leaky old house. Nanoceramics are used in some dental implants, or to fill holes in bones after removing a bone tumor, because their mechanical and chemical properties can be tuned to match those of the surrounding tissue. Almost all electronic devices manufactured in the last decade use some nanomaterials. Nanotechnology is used much more extensively to build new transistor structures and interconnects for the fastest, most advanced computing chips, introduced in 2007 and 2008.
Where else will nanotechnology be used in the future?
Some exciting new nanotechnology-based medicines are now in clinical trials. Some use nanoparticles to deliver toxic drugs directly to tumors, while minimizing the amount of drug damages healthy tissue. Others are used to make medical imaging tools, like MRIs and CAT scans, work better and more safely. Nanotechnology is enabling scientists to find ways to make our home, cars, and businesses more energy efficient through new fuel cells, batteries, and solar panels. They are also finding ways to purify drinking water and to detect and clean up environmental waste and damage. Nanosensors in packaging may soon be able to detect food borne pathogens. New nanomaterials will be stronger, lighter and more durable than the materials we use today in buildings, bridges, automobiles, and more. Scientists have experimented with nanomaterials that bend light and may one day be able to create an “invisibility cloak.” The possibilities seem limitless and the future of nanotechnology holds great potential.
What is the Iran Nanotechnology Initiative Council?
See about INIC
Why fund nanotechnology?
Nanotechnology has the potential to profoundly change our economy and to improve our standard of living, in a manner not unlike the impact made by advances over the past two decades by information technology. While some commercial products are beginning to come to market, many major applications for nanotechnology are still five to ten years out. Private investors look for shorter-term returns on investment, generally in the range of one to three years. Consequently, government support for basic research and development in its early stages needs to maintain a competitive position in the worldwide nanotechnology marketplace in order to realize nanotechnology’s full potential.
How many researchers are working in nanotechnology today?
The current estimate is about 20,000 worldwide.
Source: The NNI