Nanotechnology is science, engineering, and technology conducted at the nanoscale, which is about 1 to 100 nanometers. Nanoscience and nanotechnology are the study and application of extremely small things and can be used across all the other science fields, such as chemistry, biology, physics, materials science, and engineering.
Nanotechnology proposes the construction of new nanoscale devices that possess extraordinary properties as they are lighter, smaller and less expensive, and more precise. Materials reduced to the nanoscale can show properties compared to what they exhibit on a macro-scale, enabling unique applications.
Two main approaches are used in nanotechnology:
- Bottom-up approach – materials and devices are built from molecular components that assemble themselves chemically by principles of molecular recognition.
- Top-down approach – nano-objects are constructed from larger entities without atomic-level control.
Why do we need it?
(1) Health sector
- Nanomedicine: It has healthcare applications such as treatment and diagnostics of various diseases using nanoparticles in medical devices, as well as nanoelectronic biosensors and molecular nanotechnology.
- Smart pills: Nano-level electronic devices that are shaped and designed like pharmaceutical pills but perform more advanced functions such as sensing, imaging, and drug delivery.
- Cancer detection and treatment: Regular chemotherapy and radiation damages body’s healthy cells during the treatment. New nanomedicine approaches are being used in the treatment of skin cancer, which enables efficient delivery of drugs and other therapeutic treatments to specific tumor sites and target cells with low toxic side-effects.
- Nanobots: Nanobots are micro-scale robots, which essentially serve as miniature surgeons. They can be inserted into the body to repair and replace intracellular structures. They can also replicate themselves to correct a deficiency in genetics or even eradicate diseases by replacing DNA molecules. Nanobots can also be used to clear artery blockages by drilling through them.
- Nanofibers: Nanofibers are being used in wound dressings and surgical textiles, as well as in implants, tissue engineering, and artificial organ components.
- Nanotech-based wearables: Such wearables have embedded nanosensors in the cloth that record medical data such as heartbeat, sweat components, and blood pressure. It helps save lives by alerting the wearer and medical professionals of any adverse changes faced by the body
(2) Food Industry
- Nanotechnology provides the potential for safe and better quality food and improved texture and taste of the food.
- A contamination sensor, using a flash of light can reveal the presence of E-coli.
- Antimicrobial packaging made out of cinnamon or oregano oil or nanoparticles of zinc, calcium, etc., can kill bacteria.
- The nano-enhanced barrier can keep oxygen-sensitive food fresh.
- Nano-encapsulating can improve the solubility of vitamins, antioxidants, healthy omega, etc.
- Nanobarcodes are used to tag individual products and trace outbreaks.
(3) Electronic components
Nanotechnology has greatly improved the capacity of electronic components by:
- Reducing the size of the integrated circuits’ transistors
- Improving the display screens of the electronic devices
- Reducing power consumption, weight, and thickness of the electronic devices.
- This technology can improve the efficiency of the existing solar panels. It can also make the manufacturing process of solar panels cheaper and efficient.
- It can improve the efficiency of fuel production and consumption of petroleum materials.
- It is already being made use of in many batteries that are less-flammable, efficient, quicker-charging and are lightweight and higher power density.
(5) Textile industry
- Nanotechnology has already made revolutionary changes in the textile industry and is estimated to make a market impact worth hundreds of billions of dollars.
- Nanoscience has now produced stain and wrinkle resistant cloths and may further improve upon the existing innovations.
- It has the potential to address the current problem of pollution.
- It can provide for affordable, clean drinking water through swift detection of impurities and purification of water.
- The nanotechnology can be used to remove industrial water pollutants in the groundwater through chemical reactions at a cheaper rate.
- Nanotechnology sensors and solutions also have the potential to detect, identify, filter and neutralise harmful chemical or biological agents in the air and soil.
- Nanotechnology contributes to manufacturing lighter, smarter, efficient and greener automobiles, aircraft and ships.
- It also allows various means to improve transportation infrastructures like providing resilience and longevity of the highway and other infrastructure components.
- The nanoscale sensors and devices can also provide for cheap and effective structural monitoring of the condition and performance of the bridges, rails, tunnels, etc. They can also enhance transportation infrastructure that makes the drivers avoid collisions and congestions, maintain lane position, etc.
- Materials made of carbon nanotubes can reduce the weight of the spaceships while retaining or increasing the structural strength.
- They can also be used to make cables that are needed for the space elevator. Space elevators can significantly reduce the cost of sending materials to the orbit.
- The nanosensors can be used to monitor the chemicals in the spacecraft to look into the performance of the life support system.
- The nanocapsule can enable effective penetration of herbicides, chemical fertilizers, and genes into the targeted part of the plant. This ensures a slow and constant release of the necessary substance to the plants with minimized environmental pollution.
- The nanosensors and delivery systems can allow for precision farming through the efficient use of natural resources like water, nutrients, chemicals etc.
- The nanosensors can also detect the plant viruses and soil nutrient levels.
- Nano-barcodes and nano-processing could also be used to monitor the quality of agriculture produce.
- Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are cylindrical molecules that consist of rolled-up sheets of single-layer carbon atoms (graphene).
- They can be single-walled (SWCNT) (dia<1nm) or multi-walled (MWCNT) (dia>100nm), consisting of several concentrically interlinked nanotubes. Their length can reach several micrometers or even millimeters.
- Like their building block graphene, CNTs are chemically bonded with sp2 bonds, an extremely strong form of molecular interaction
- Used in electric wires to reduce losses
- It can replace silicon made transistors as they are small and emit less heat and it can revolutionise electronics
- Can be used in solar cell
- Graphene is a one-atom-thick sheet of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb-like pattern. Graphene is considered to be the world’s thinnest, strongest and most conductive material – of both electricity and heat.
- All of these properties are exciting researchers and businesses around the world – as graphene has the potential to revolutionize entire industries – in the fields of electricity, conductivity, energy generation, batteries, sensors and more.
Issues in Nanotechnology
- The nanotechnology may pose a potential risk to the environment, health and other safety issues.
- Since this field is still at its nascent stage, the likely risks are contentious. As for whether or not this technology requires special government regulation, the issue is still debated.
- The regulatory authorities like the US Environmental Protection Agency and the Health and Consumer Protection Directorate of the European Commission have started assessing the potential risks posed by the nanoparticles.
- The organic food sector is the first to be regulated so that the engineered nanoparticles are excluded from the organic produce. It has been implemented in Australia, UK and Canada as well as all the food certified under the Demeter International Standards.
- Nanotoxicology is the study of potential health risks of nanomaterials. The human body can easily take up the nanomaterials as they are small in size.
- However, there is a need for detailed research on how it would behave inside an organism. The behaviour of nanoparticles based on their size, shape and surface reactivity must be thoroughly analysed before launching them into the market.
- Nanopollution is the generic term that is used to describe the waste generated by the nanodevices or nanomaterials during the manufacturing process.
- Nanowastes may be of risk due to their size and different properties and interactions. Since the man-made nanoparticles are not naturally made, living organisms may not have the appropriate means to deal with them.
- The risk of nanotechnology on health, environment, society, economy, security, and trade is not yet fully assessed. This in itself is a threat.
- Nanotechnology regulatory board to regulate industrial nano products
- Nano technology institutes like Indian Institute of Nano sciences at Bangalore,Mumbai,kolkata
- Nano technology initiatives program by Department of Information technology and for nano electronic products
- Nano mission:1000 crore allotted for 5 years for development of nano technology
- Department of Science and Tech-Nanomission (nano-biotechnology activities) through DBT, ICMR, and CoE in Nanoelectronics by MeitY support nanoscience, nanotechnology, nanobiotechnology, and nanoelectronics activities.
- Eighteen sophisticated analytical instruments facilities (SAIFs) established by DST across India play a major role in the advanced characterization and synthesis of nanomaterials for various applications.
- The Center of Excellence in Nanoscience and Nanotechnology established by DSTNanomission helps research and PG students in various thrust areas.
- Thematic Units of Excellence (TUEs) for various areas of nanoscience and nanotechnology play a major role in product-based research to support nanotechnology.
- Visveswaraya Ph.D. fellowships offered by MeitY supports various nanotechnology activities in the country.
- INSPIRE scheme supports research fellows to work in interdisciplinary nanotechnology, nanoscience, and nano-biotechnology areas.
- DST-Nanomission supports more than 20 PG teaching programs to create a baseline for nanoscience and nanotechnology in India, out of about 70 PG programs currently running in India.
Mission on Nano Science and Technology (Nano Mission)
- Launched in 2007.
- It is as an “umbrella capacity-building programme”.
- The Mission’s programmes will target all scientists, institutions and industry in the country.
- It will also strengthen activities in nano science and technology by promoting basic research, human resource development, research infrastructure development, international collaborations, among others.
- It will be anchored in the Department of Science and Technology and steered by a Nano Mission Council chaired by an eminent scientist.
Outcomes and significance of the mission
- As a result of the efforts led by the Nano Mission, today, India is amongst the top five nations in the world in terms of scientific publications in nano science and technology (moving from 4th to the 3rd position).
- The Nano Mission itself has resulted in about 5000 research papers and about 900 Ph.Ds and also some useful products like nano hydrogel based eye drops, pesticide removal technology for drinking water, water filters for arsenic and fluoride removal, nanosilver based antimicrobial textile coating, etc.
- The Nano Mission has thus helped establish a good eco-system in the country to pursue front-ranking basic research and also to seed and nurture application-oriented R&D, focused on useful technologies and products.
Nanotechnology provides a bright future for humankind. However, much is yet to be known about its impacts and risks. The government, before indulging in the promotion and launch of this new technology, must invest more in basic research to understand this field.