Nanotechnology devices have a wide range of applications, such as electronics, medicine, energy, textiles and more. These devices typically have a scale of fewer than 100 nanometers (nm). A nanometer is a very small unit of measurement equal to one billionth of a meter. For reference, a sheet of paper is about 100,000 nanometers thick.
Where Do We Find Nanotechnology?
- Cosmetics and sunscreen
- Sporting goods
- Building and construction materials
- Healthcare technology
- Renewable energy
Why Is Nanotechnology Important?
We can use nanotechnology to create materials, devices and systems with unique properties and functions. The very small size of the materials allows them to exhibit different physical and chemical properties than the same materials at a larger scale. Due to their small size, nanomaterials have a large surface area-to-volume ratio, which can lead to increased reactivity, strength and conductivity.
Additionally, the small size of nanomaterials allows them to be easily incorporated into a wide variety of products and processes, including electronic devices, medical treatments, energy production and environmental remediation. The properties of nanomaterials also make them useful for creating new products and improving existing ones, such as increasing the efficiency of solar cells and batteries, creating stronger and more durable materials for construction and developing more effective medical treatments.
Examples of Nanotechnology
There are many examples of nanotechnology use in everyday life. Some of the most common applications include:
- Electronics: We use nanomaterials in a wide range of electronic devices like smartphones, laptops and televisions. Nanomaterials help to improve various properties of these devices such as conductivity, strength and durability. The use of nanomaterials in electronic devices can also help to reduce the overall size and weight of the devices.
- Cosmetics: Some cosmetics, like foundations and moisturizers, contain nanoparticles that can help to improve the product’s texture and appearance.
- Sporting goods: Some sports equipment, such as golf clubs and tennis rackets, contain nanomaterials that can help to improve their performance. For example, nanoclay is added to soccer and tennis balls to increase their lifecycle
- Clothing: Some clothing, such as outdoor gear and athletic wear, contain nanomaterials that can help to make them more durable and water resistant.
How Is Nanotechnology Made?
There are several methods for creating nanomaterials, including:
- Top-down approaches: Starting with a larger piece of material, we can use tools like lithography to carve or etch the material down to the nanoscale. Scientists do this using various techniques such as laser ablation, chemical etching or mechanical milling. This approach is used during the fabrication of integrated circuits in electronics.
- Bottom-up approaches: These techniques involve building up materials from smaller components, such as atoms or molecules. This can be done using techniques such as chemical synthesis or self-assembly. One example of an application of nanotechnology where a bottom-up approach is used is the synthesis of nanoparticles.
- Self-assembly: This technique involves designing materials or structures in such a way that they spontaneously organize themselves into the desired nanoscale structure. We can do this using techniques such as template-assisted self-assembly or directed self-assembly. We can see self-assembly at work in the production of block copolymers.
- Physical vapor deposition: This involves vaporizing a material and then depositing it on the surface of the material to form a thin film, such as in the coating of cutting tools.
- Chemical vapor deposition: This involves reacting a gas with a surface to create a thin film of the desired material, which we see in the production of thin films for solar cells.
What Are the Benefits of Nanotechnology?
There are many potential benefits to nanotechnology, including:
- Improved materials: Nanomaterials can be stronger, lighter and more durable than traditional materials. These improvements can lead to a wide range of applications in a number of industries including construction, transportation and consumer products.
- Increased energy efficiency: We can use nanomaterials to create more efficient batteries, solar cells and fuel cells. These materials can help reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
- Enhanced medical treatments: We can use nanotechnology to create more targeted and effective drugs, as well as diagnostic tools and medical devices.
- Improved water filtration and purification: We can use nanomaterials to create more effective filters for removing contaminants from water.
- Improved food safety and agriculture: With the help of nanotechnology, we can create sensors for detecting food contaminants, as well as fertilizers and pesticides that are more targeted and less harmful to the environment.
What Are the Risks of Nanotechnology?
There are also potential risks associated with nanotechnology, including:
- Health and environmental risks: We don’t yet fully understand the long-term health effects of exposure to nanomaterials. There are concerns that nanotechnology in food, for instance, could be harmful to humans and the environment.
- Economic risks: There is potential for nanotechnology to disrupt traditional industries and create economic inequality. A functioning nanocomputer for instance would be hundreds of times more computationally powerful than the most powerful conventional computers. It could give those who have access to the technology a significant advantage in areas such as stock trading, financial modeling and other data-intensive industries. A nanocomputer could also lead to job displacement as certain tasks and industries become automated by the powerful technology.
- Ethical risks: There are also ethical concerns surrounding the use of nanotechnology, such as the potential for it to be used for military or surveillance purposes.