Today governments are spending a huge share of their revenues after the research and development of nanotechnology; nevertheless, it is very difficult to state precisely the opportunities or possible uses of nanotechnology. Nanonscientists and technologists are facing a big challenge of communicating with non-scientific fraternity. After the years of contemplation, many fallacies have developed around the area; these fallacies make it difficult for the commons and even for business groups and financial tribes to understand what is a basic change that influences our interactions with the natural world. The article aims at eliminating these delusions and explaining the reason why nanoscientists, business houses and governments spend money and time on the research and development of nanoscale.
Know the Nanotechnology
If we ask a common person or other experts (scientists or engineers) of nanotechnololgy about nanotechnology, we will obtain countless answers. Many scientists do not consider the technology as newborn, because they believe that we have been working at the nanoscale for many years through electron microscopy, scanning probe microscopes, growing or analysing thin films. However, for many people nanotechnology is something far more ambitious, miniature submarines in the bloodstream, little cogs and gears made out of atoms, space elevators made of nanotubes and the colonisation of space. People are often confused between nanotechnology and science fiction.
International Standards Organisation has explained metre as ‘the length of the path travelled by light in vacuum during a time of 1/299 792 458 of a second’ and according to this definition nanometer is 10- 9. Though International Standards Organisation has given the definitions of metre and nanometer, scientists are not able to communicate the nanoscale to those who are not scientists. People tend to compare sizes to the objects that are useful in our everyday life and the simplest analogy of nanotechnology is with the width of a human hair.
Unfortunately, growth of human hair is highly uneven; it ranges from billions of microns in diametre (10-6 of a metre). This growth depends on the colour, type and the part of our body from which hair is plucked; therefore, we need a model to which we can compare the nanoscale. Very few learned people know what is the millionth or billionth of something; in this situation, it would be easier to compare nanotechnology to atoms. Few non-scientists have knowledge of the size of an atom and therefore, comparing the size of nanometre to the size of 10 hydrogen or 5 silicon atoms in a row is understandable by human mind. It is immaterial to discuss the exact size of atoms; what matters is to spread the fact that nanotechnology is taking care of the tiniest parts of material we can operate.
Nanotechnology is not a science fiction
Most people are under the impression that nanotechnology is an ultramodern science having its applications in the forthcoming 25 years, but nanotechnology is not a science fiction at all. More than dozen Nobel prizes have been awarded in Nanotechnology in the last 15 years; the category of these prizes range from development of the scanning probe microscope (SPM) to the discovery of fullerenes. The Nanotechnology has its widespread influence on many companies from small venture capital supported beginners to some of the business heavyweights like IBM and Samsung. As per CMP Cientifica, more than 600 companies are engaged in Nanotechnology. Governments and corporations have spent more than $4 billion after nanotechnology in the last year alone. The technology has its presence in educational institutions of the world.
The commendable thing is that companies have started employing Nanotechnology to various products we are buying, such as automobile parts, clothing and ski wax. The omnipresence of Nanotechnology can be perceived only if we have eyes for that.
The pity is that many business people do not know where to find the information about Nanotechnology. This technology has a tremendous positive impact over the major electronic communication channels like computers, software, Internet and mobile phones. Additives for plastics, nanocarbon particles for improved steel, coatings and improved catalysts for the petrochemical industry are some of the material related primary functions of nanotechnology. All these industries are hinged on technology and, maybe not new ones, but lucrative in terms of finance.
The nanotechnology industry
The nanotechnology has become a common subject for people while discussing the technology in general. The word nanotechnology comes out of our mouths as easily as we talk about software and mobile phones, but what about the future of this technology. Companies using nanotechnology are implementing our knowledge of the nanoscale to present industries, whether it is improved drug delivery mechanisms for the pharmaceutical industry, or producing nanoclay particles for the plastic industry. It is difficult to digest the fact that nanotechnology does not have any independent existence because it is an empowering technology, which fortifies other industries against the cutthroat competition of 21st century. For instance, it would be incorrect to declare that Microsoft or Oracle are part of the electricity industry; however the fact is that software industry would stand still without electricity. Instead, nanotechnology is an essential awareness of how nature works at the atomic scale. This awareness will give birth to new industries, just as the knowledge of how electrons can be moved in a conductor by applying a potential difference led to electric lighting, the telephone, computing, the internet and many other industries, all of which would not have been thought without it.
For example, it is possible to buy a pack of nanotechnology, a gram of nanotubes; it would have least essential value. The real significance of the nanotubes would be in their function, be it within the existing industry or to bring about the formation of a completely new one.
It is an accepted idea of the advantages of nanotechnology to minimize the machines that can be installed into the human body to spot and heal diseased cells, and this idea is very much close to fact. Many companies have already opted this technology in clinical trials for drug distribution systems, but they do not include Lilliputian submarines. There are better methods than nanomachines for nanotechnology to strengthen better drug distribution systems.
To bring no-nonsense analysis, the idea of travelling one way round the body will have to be discarded. It is like going against the blood flow in artery – one cannot swim against the current in a fast flowing river when round rocks are coming in the form of red and white blood cells. Prevailing medical uses of nanotechnology do not involve advanced distribution methods, such as pulmonary or epidermal methods, encasement for both delivery and delayed release and eventually the integration of detection with delivery, in order that drugs might be delivered exactly where they are needed, thus reducing side effects on healthy tissue and cells.
People believe that nanotechnology is involved in making things smaller; this is a mistaken belief people must get rid of it. This belief has been aggravated by images of tiny bulls and miniscule guitars that can be played with the tip of an AFM; it can be flashed in news, but nothing more than the display of our new control of matter at the sub-micron level. Unlike micro-technologies, which are much associated with macro-scale tools like transistors and mechanical systems and making them tinier, nanotechnology is rather dealing with our strength to create from the bottom. In the domain of electronics, there is an increasing consciousness that after the end of the CMOS roadmap in sight at around 10 nm, integrated with the indefinitely principal’s limit of Von Neuman electronics at 2 nm, that making things tinier will not help us. If CMOS transistors were replaced on a one for one basis with a type of nano tool, they would affect the fabrication costs, which might increase extremely, while they would introduce only an insignificant improvement over present technologies.
However, with the help of nanotechnology, we can find a way out of this technological and financial blind alley by erecting tools from the bottom. Methods such as self assembly, possibly supported templates formed by nano imprint lithography, united with our knowledge of the workings of polymers and molecules such as Rotoxane at the nanoscale open up an entire new bundle of possibilities. To fabricate intelligent and economical tools, our knowledge of behaviour of materials on the scale of small molecules offers a variety of alternative methods, no matter if it is bypassing Moore’s second law by shifting to plastic electronics or using molecular electronics. Our new knowledge will allow us to create new architectures; as a result, an authentic scale of functioning would be practicality and not the transistor density or operations per second.
Nanotechnology is new
It is beyond our belief that the Romans and Chinese were using nanoparticles centuries ago. Similarly, whenever one lights a matchstick, fullerenes are produced. Since 1920s, Degusssa have been producing carbon black, which is a substance making car tyres black and enhancing the wear resistance of the rubber. While using this technology, they did not know that it was nanotechnology and since they could not control the size of particle, they were unable to use nanotechnology as we use it today.
Today we are not only able to perceive and employ matter on the nanoscale, but also understand atomic scale interactions; and that is the new thing about nanotechnology.
Building atom by atom
In 1989, when Don Eigler employed an SPM to discern the letters IBM in xenon atoms, it proved one of the decisive moments in the history of nanotechnology. For the first time we were successful in making a perfect sequence of atoms, even if maintaining them above absolute zero was a big challenge. On the one hand, sequencing atoms can be proved useful to enhance our knowledge of nanoworld; on the other, it is useless in industrial processes. Suppose a Pentium 4 processor contains 42 million transistors, we would need 42 x 102 procedures to simplify the transistors to a cube of 100 atoms and that is before we consider the other material and tools required in a functioning processor.
Our strength to construct things atom by atom on a very large scale is called Physical Chemistry; this chemistry has been used for a century and producing everything from nitrate to salt. For this, we are not required to have any tabletop assembler; generally, few barrels of precursor chemicals and a catalyst are enough.
Our complication would increase while moving towards microscale; it would be better to reproduce, with cells, cytoplasm, mitochondria, chromosomes, ribosomes and many other highly complex items of natural engineering. Nanoscale is still more thorny area to take action; nucleic acids, nucleotides, peptides and proteins, which seem aliens to us, or expect to even have the computing power to understand in the near future are big challenges before us.
Attack of the killer nanobots
To take hold of the fancy of commons, it will be a popular practice to release a host of self-duplicating tools that escape from the lab and attack anything in their path. To our misfortune, nature, before many centuries, has defeated us to it. To avoid our attempts at eradication, as they do so, natural happenings of nanomachines cannot only copy and mutate, but can also escape their hosts and travel with alarming ease through the atmosphere. It is not a surprising fact that viruses are the most acknowledged living organisms, with most of their `machinery’ being well into the nano realm. Nevertheless, there are restrictions to the spreading of such `nanobots’, decided by their strength, or lack, of transforming a sufficiently wide range of material needed for future development. Even though the immune systems of many species are unable to render viruses ineffective completely without side effects such as running noses, they are so competent to take action on this type of danger as a result of the wide range of different technologies at hand to a large intricate living thing when brought face to face with a single purpose nano-sized one. From the nano world to become a peril, it would have to incorporate extra intellect and complaisance than we could possibly create into it.
Nature knows more about genomics and proteomics than we know and for the projected future, this picture will not be changed. A person who is much bothered about human race must take into account mutations in viruses such as HIV that would permit transmission through mosquitoes or more fatal versions of influenza virus, which should be given more attention than anything does nanotechnology may produce.
Like any other division of science, this technology deals with the functions of nature. In proportion to nature, we are still in our infancy in producing tools and manipulating matter. Nature is able enough to create highly proficient systems that function neither more nor less i.e. without waste.
Though many divisions come under the cover of nanotechnology are not aliens, our new strength of noticing and employing atomic scale combine with existing technologies makes nanotechnology so irrefutable from scientific, commercial and political perspectives.
From the cultured scientists of 17th and 18th centuries to the present academic infrastructure, scientists have been developing the amount of human knowledge and that has long been the motivating impulse behind discovery. If we want to understand the world near us, we have to understand Nanotechnology and this knowledge will provide motivation and encouragement for many scientists of future generations.
Businesspersons have a single use of this nanotechnology like any other technology: to enhance their profit share. This can be done by minimizing production expenses; for example, they can use catalysts that are more competent in chemical industry or develop new products like new drug delivery systems or stain resistant clothes, or create completely new markets.
In spite of fresh setbacks, with the effect of development and acceptance of information technology, US have taken dominating position in terms of financial growth. Thus, politically it can be said that fear is the leading motivation. Lead in Military technology is of equal importance as displayed by the use of manless drones for vigilance and attack in fresh combats. This technology will introduce more important changes in the areas of economy, armed forces and culture; since the technology is developing fast, and expansion and acceptance cycles becoming shorter, playing catch-up will not be an option for governments who are not already taking action.
Nanotechnology brings different physical and biological sciences, which have long been separated due to the features of education. This benefit has, of course, a short life. Apart from nanosubmarines and killer nanobots, the biggest use of nanotechnology is the union of scientific branches and the resulting strength of scientists, when come up against a problem, to call on the wherewithal of the whole of science, not just of one branch.
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