To be able to understand any of the articles follows, it is important to know the basics of nanotechnology or “nanotech” for short. So, what is nanotechnology?
Nanotechnology is a fraction of science and technology that focuses particularly on the manipulation and control of matter by way of its molecules and atoms – the smallest units of matter possible. That’s where the “Nano-” part comes in. These units of matter are measured on a nanometric scale. 1 nanometer is so much smaller than a millimeter that the conversion is too long to write on a page; instead written as 1 nm = 1e-6 mm.
Over the course of this article, we will discuss the scope of nanotechnology. It will also go into nanotechnology applications and the trends in nanotechnology that have been discovered over continued experimentation. Finally, we will examine and discuss the challenges that have been uncovered.
While working with molecules and atoms is by no means a new thing, being able to control matter on such a tiny scale is certainly still an emerging field in the world. It has already been invested in for some years by some of the world’s greater forces in science and technology, such as the UK, the US, and Germany. Even more developing territories like India have a good few institutions dedicated to nanotech research.
The important thing about a relatively new field of study in science and technology is that there is so much to be experimented with and, thereby, discovered. As such, nanotechnology’s scope is huge, especially for future generations when the technologies we currently use become even more advanced.
Also, the ability to control matter on a nanometric scale is one that several world leaders and governments wish to invest in and will offer funding to ensure nanotechnology applications and study may continue unhindered. With such a big scope comes huge potential – continued research into nanotechnology will enable us to improve and radically change other pre-existing industries, from agriculture to medicine.
Another helpful thing in providing a job market for nanotechnology is its versatility. There are many scientific and technological fields whose skills, discipline and knowledge – both practical and theoretical – that cater to working in nanotech. To name a few: chemistry, biology, mathematics, physics (of course) and even engineering.
Therefore, it is unsurprising to find nanotechnology degrees – Masters and PhDs – being offered by universities across the world. Dedicated research in an educational environment may even help uncover previously-unseen trends in nanotechnology. “What is nanotechnology?” will become less and less difficult to answer in generations to come.
In understanding what is nanotechnology, we can build a better idea of the various real-world nanotechnology applications. A lot of these areas still require a lot of research into perfecting the nanotech for a purpose. We have a list of a few of them below.
Probably among the most important nanotechnology applications out there. Nanotech’s use in improving medicine in a variety of ways, including but not limited to diagnostics, therapy, antibacterial and antimicrobial and even cell repair. At the top of this list, however, is drug delivery.
By this, we mean how drugs are delivered to the appropriate parts of the body. Current research and developments are focusing on the direction of drugs, by way of nanotechnology, to diseased cells. If successful, this could sharpen certain treatments and make them less self-destructive. Take chemotherapy for example. It is regarded as much of poison as cancer it is designed to destroy, because of its adverse side-effects. As such, fine-tuning chemo with nanotechnology will eliminate the harmful side.
Institutions researching nanotechnology applications have found a lot of potential for its use in improving food – both its production and its distribution. Continued and successful study and development in this area will enable improvements to both food quality and safety.
The same applies to water quality. Nanotechnology can be used to convert and nullify the harmful effects of industrial waste products and chemicals in water, in turn making it cleaner and safer to drink. When fully developed, this can even be applied in developing countries where clean drinking water is scarce.
Energy and fuel and the steadily decreasing supplies thereof are perpetual subjects in the news. Nanotechnological research aims to provide solutions to issues in both areas. In fuel cells, nanotechnology can be used to improve efficiency in separating hydrogen ions, for example, from other atmospheric gases.
Nanotechnology is also being used to create an alternative to traditional solar cells, with the intent to reduce costs. Furthermore, it also has a place and purpose in improving the shortage of fossil fuels using pre-existing raw materials. This, in turn, improves fuel efficiency.
Trends in nanotechnology are being noted and monitored continuously, with more being added to the list and written over from year to year. Some are more prominent than others in demonstrating how nanotechnology has a definite place in our future.
For example, in its application to create stronger materials and composites, nanotechnology could be used further down the line in the production of lighter yet stronger structures – even to the extent of vehicles. Certain materials manufactured by nanotechnology have already been used in space exploration.
As with any developing area of scientific research and discovery, some challenges and areas for improvement have come to light. What is nanotechnology currently doing to hinder further development?
The main challenge posed by nanotechnology and its research and development to humans is the potential harm-to-health effects it could pose. It has been factually noted that nanoparticles have the same properties as molecules like proteins. As such, they could potentially be absorbed into the skin, entering the tissue and even bodily fluids. That is without mentioning the possible toxicity of certain nanoparticles.
As such, developments need to be made to protect researchers and developers from whatever harmful effects any nanoparticles can present. The main challenge here exists in inhalation, in the same way, that inhaling air pollutants cannot be good for us. If small enough, traditional measures like masks may not be as effective.
The most extreme cases of toxic nanoparticles have entered subjects’ brains and even the bloodstream. Perfected preventative measures need to be put in place before larger-scale developments with nanotechnology can move forward.
Producing Nanotechnological products and making them affordable is another of the major challenges posed in nanotechnology. Affordable not only regarding continued en masse production but in commercializing them to be invested in by governments and corporations.
These challenges are usually encountered in producing nanotechnologies that can be used to resolve issues in food safety and distribution, water safety and quality and environmental problems. This is primarily due to the pre-existing scarcity of some of the required materials necessary for continued production of the nanomaterials.
What is nanotechnology’s place in the future, then? Obviously, it requires many years more research and development, ironing out all the creases and finding answers to some of the bigger hurdles it faces.
Once it overcomes challenges like its safety and affordability, there will be no limits to its potential. If Nanotechnological products have already been used for space exploration, then creating lighter yet stronger vehicles like cars should be no problem once fully developed.
It has the potential to eliminate a lot of otherwise notorious issues that have gone unresolved for a long time. It has too much potential to study and research, take the possibilities with water cleanliness for, example. If nanotechnology can be used to ensure safe drinking water for developing countries – think of all the lives that could be saved.
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