VIEWS: 41 PAGES: 17 CATEGORY: Biotechnology POSTED ON: 9/17/2012
Nanotechnology is the engineering of functional systems at the molecular scale. This covers both current work and concepts that are more advanced. In its original sense, 'nanotechnology' refers to the projected ability to construct items from the bottom up, using techniques and tools being developed today to make complete, high performance products.
What is Nanotechnology? Nanotechnology is the engineering of functional systems at the molecular scale. This covers both current work and concepts that are more advanced. In its original sense, 'nanotechnology' refers to the projected ability to construct items from the bottom up, using techniques and tools being developed today to make complete, high performance products. The Meaning of Nanotechnology When K. Eric Drexler (right) popularized the word 'nanotechnology' in the 1980's, he was talking about building machines on the scale of molecules, a few nanometerswide—motors, robot arms, and even whole computers, far smaller than a cell. Drexler spent the next ten years describing and analyzing these incredible devices, and responding to accusations of science fiction. Meanwhile, mundane technology was developing the ability to build simple structures on a molecular scale. As nanotechnology became an accepted concept, the meaning of the word shifted to encompass the simpler kinds of nanometer-scale technology. The U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative was created to fund this kind of nanotech: their definition includes anything smaller than 100 nanometers with novel properties. Much of the work being done today that carries the name 'nanotechnology' is not nanotechnology in the original meaning of the word. Nanotechnology, in its traditional sense, means building things from the bottom up, with atomic precision. This theoretical capability was envisioned as early as 1959 by the renowned physicist Richard Feynman. I want to build a billion tiny factories, models of each other, which are manufacturing simultaneously. . . The principles of physics, as far as I can see, do not speak against the possibility of maneuvering things atom by atom. It is not an attempt to violate any laws; it is something, in principle, that can be done; but in practice, it has not been done because we are too big. — Richard Feynman, Nobel Prize winner in physics Based on Feynman's vision of miniature factories using nanomachines to build complex products, advanced nanotechnology (sometimes referred to as molecular manufacturing) will make use of positionally-controlled mechanochemistry guided by molecular machine systems. Formulating a roadmap for development of this kind of nanotechnology is now an objective of a broadly basedtechnology roadmap project led by Battelle (the manager of several U.S. National Laboratories) and the Foresight Nanotech Institute. Shortly after this envisioned molecular machinery is created, it will result in a manufacturing revolution, probably causing severe disruption. It also has serious economic, social, environmental, and military implications. GENERATION OF NANO TECHNOLOGY Four Generations Mihail (Mike) Roco of the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative has described four generations of nanotechnology development (see chart below). The current era, as Roco depicts it, is that of passive nanostructures, materials designed to perform one task. The second phase, which we are just entering, introduces active nanostructures for multitasking; for example, actuators, drug delivery devices, and sensors. The third generation is expected to begin emerging around 2010 and will feature nanosystems with thousands of interacting components. A few years after that, the first integrated nanosystems, functioning (according to Roco) much like a mammalian cell with hierarchical systems within systems, are expected to be developed. Some experts may still insist that nanotechnology can refer to measurement or visualization at the scale of 1-100 nanometers, but a consensus seems to be forming around the idea (put forward by the NNI's Mike Roco) that control and restructuring of matter at the nanoscale is a necessary element. CRN's definition is a bit more precise than that, but as work progresses through the four generations of nanotechnology leading up to molecular nanosystems, which will include molecular manufacturing, we think it will become increasingly obvious that "engineering of functional systems at the molecular scale" is what nanotech is really all about. Nanotechnology Benefits Nanotechnology is impacting businesses and will offer new and improved products and processes and will allow companies to innovate and enter new markets - below are some examples. Nanotechnology Applications: Advanced Manufacturing • Benefits: Controlled manufacturing processes, economical and high output with low cost. • Applications and Uses: faster electronics, new material development Aerospace • Benefits: CO2 reduction, lighter materials, move to less fuel consumption cost savings, improved functionality of materials, minimising risk, flexibility and new systems • Applications and Uses: nanocomposites, advanced sensors, faster electronics for data processing Agriculture • Benefits: higher crop yields, reduction in the use of pesticides and improved water management • Applications and Uses: nanoparticles for removing contamination, moisture sensors, detection of pathogens Automotive • Benefits: CO2 reduction, lighter materials, move to less fuel consumption • Applications and Uses: Lubricant / hydraulic additives, nanoparticles in catalytic converters, fuel cells, hydrogen storage Chemical Industries • Benefits: reduction of waste and CO2 reduction • Applications and Uses: fuel cells, nanoparticles as catalysts Construction • Benefits: lower energy needs, CO2 reduction • Applications and Uses: Thermal insulation, Energy storage devices Cosmetics • Benefits: UV protection, enhanced delivery of medicated skin products • Applications: clear sunscreens, beauty care products, Cosmeceuticals, Nutraceuticals Creative Industries • Benefits: Bioinspired product development • Applications and Uses: changing effects, advanced display systems Defence • Benefits: better detection and surveillance techniques, • Applications and Uses: body armour, chemical and biological sensors Electronics • Benefits: providing faster, smaller and enhanced hand held devices • Applications and Uses: Advanced display technologies with conductive nanomaterials, quantum computing, data storage, printable and flexible electronics, magnetic nanoparticles for data storage Energy/Power • Benefits: New materials for energy harvesting and storage • Applications and Uses: DC-DC power converters, fuel cells, nanocomposites for high temperature applications Environment • Benefits: CO2 reduction and clean-up • Applications and Uses: Air and water filtration, waste and water treatment, hazourdous materials disposal, in- building environmental systems, remediation Extreme Environment • Benefits: De-icing, • Applications and Uses: Advanced textiles, stronger materials Food and drink packing • Benefits: tracking, quality monitoring and anti-counterfeiting, provides enhanced information on product and is environmentally friendly • Applications and Uses: improved barrier properties and heat-resistance, anti-microbial and anti-fungal packaging, smart sensing, biodegradable packaging Healthcare • Benefits: better patient care and understanding of biological processes • Applications and Uses: Nanoparticulate drug delivery, Nanosilver dressings, Fluorescent biological labels Household products • Benefits: self-cleaning, anti-bacteria and anti-fouling properties • Applications and Uses: water and air purification systems, deodorizers and anti-misting systems Low Carbon Technologies • Benefits: environmentally friendly with the goal to reduce CO2 production • Applications and Uses: energy storage devices Marine • Benefits: products to improve transportation • Applications and Uses: Anti-fouling coatings, sensors, Materials • Benefits: Stronger and lightweight materials, functionalised materials • Applications and Uses: Anti-fouling coatings, Nanotube polymers, printed electronics Oil and Gas • Benefits: Safety monitoring, improved oil recovery, well management • Applications and Uses: nanoparticles, novel sensors Safety • Benefits: employee monitoring, advancing imaging, better testing, new characterisation methods • Applications and Uses: PPE equipment, stronger materials Security • Benefits: tagging and tracking, monitoring, advancing sensors technology, improved RFID technology • Applications and Uses: body armour, combating fraud with nanoparticle based inks Sporting Goods and recreation • Benefits: Stronger and durable products, enhanced fabrics, textiles embedded with sensors • Applications and Uses: tennis balls, tennis rackets, hockey sticks Textiles • Benefits: hospital garments, emergency clothing and PPE, fashion on demand • Applications and Uses: Stain-resistant fabrics, self cleaning and anti-bacterial coatings, protection and detection, healthcare, new wearable textiles incorporating solar cells, sensors and self cleaning properties Tourism • Benefits: enhanced displays and user interfaces • Applications and Uses: airport information kiosk Advantages and Disadvantages of Nanotechnology While nanotechnology is seen as the way of the future and is a technology that a lot of people think will bring a lot of benefit for all who will be using it, nothing is ever perfect and there will always be pros and cons to everything. The advantages and disadvantages of nanotechnology can be easily enumerated, and here are some of them: Advantages of Nanotechnology To enumerate the advantages and disadvantages of nanotechnology, let us first run through the good things this technology brings: Nanotechnology can actually revolutionize a lot of electronic products, procedures, and applications. The areas that benefit from the continued development of nanotechnology when it comes to electronic products include nano transistors, nano diodes, OLED, plasma displays, quantum computers, and many more. Nanotechnology can also benefit the energy sector. The development of more effective energy-producing, energy-absorbing, and energy storage products in smaller and more efficient devices is possible with this technology. Such items like batteries, fuel cells, and solar cells can be built smaller but can be made to be more effective with this technology. Another industry that can benefit from nanotechnology is the manufacturing sector that will need materials like nanotubes, aerogels, nano particles, and other similar items to produce their products with. These materials are often stronger, more durable, and lighter than those that are not produced with the help of nanotechnology. In the medical world, nanotechnology is also seen as a boon since these can help with creating what is called smart drugs. These help cure people faster and without the side effects that other traditional drugs have. You will also find that the research of nanotechnology in medicine is now focusing on areas like tissue regeneration, bone repair, immunity and even cures for such ailments like cancer, diabetes, and other life threatening diseases. To enumerate the advantages and disadvantages of nanotechnology, let us first run through the good things this technology brings: Nanotechnology can actually revolutionize a lot of electronic products, procedures, and applications. The areas that benefit from the continued development of nanotechnology when it comes to electronic products include nano transistors, nano diodes, OLED, plasma displays, quantum computers, and many more. Nanotechnology can also benefit the energy sector. The development of more effective energy-producing, energy-absorbing, and energy storage products in smaller and more efficient devices is possible with this technology. Such items like batteries, fuel cells, and solar cells can be built smaller but can be made to be more effective with this technology. Another industry that can benefit from nanotechnology is the manufacturing sector that will need materials like nanotubes, aerogels, nano particles, and other similar items to produce their products with. These materials are often stronger, more durable, and lighter than those that are not produced with the help of nanotechnology. In the medical world, nanotechnology is also seen as a boon since these can help with creating what is called smart drugs. These help cure people faster and without the side effects that other traditional drugs have. You will also find that the research of nanotechnology in medicine is now focusing on areas like tissue regeneration, bone repair, immunity and even cures for such ailments like cancer, diabetes, and other life threatening diseases. Disadvantages of Nanotechnology When tackling the advantages and disadvantages of nanotechnology, you will also need to point out what can be seen as the negative side of this technology: Included in the list of disadvantages of this science and its development is the possible loss of jobs in the traditional farming and manufacturing industry. You will also find that the development of nanotechnology can also bring about the crash of certain markets due to the lowering of the value of oil and diamonds due to the possibility of developing alternative sources of energy that are more efficient and won’t require the use of fossil fuels. This can also mean that since people can now develop products at the molecular level, diamonds will also lose its value since it can now be mass produced. Atomic weapons can now be more accessible and made to be more powerful and more destructive. These can also become more accessible with nanotechnology. Since these particles are very small, problems can actually arise from the inhalation of these minute particles, much like the problems a person gets from inhaling minute asbestos particles. Presently, nanotechnology is very expensive and developing it can cost you a lot of money. It is also pretty difficult to manufacture, which is probably why products made with nanotechnology are more expensive. Benefits of Molecular Manufacturing Molecular manufacturing (MM) can solve many of the world's current problems. For example, water shortage is a serious and growing problem. Most water is used for industry and agriculture; both of these requirements would be greatly reduced by products made by molecular manufacturing. Infectious disease is a continuing scourge in many parts of the world. Simple products like pipes, filters, and mosquito nets can greatly reduce this problem. Information and communication are valuable, but lacking in many places. Computers and display devices would become stunningly cheap. Electrical power is still not available in many areas. The efficient, cheap building of light, strong structures, electrical equipment, and power storage devices would allow the use of solar thermal power as a primary and abundant energy source. Environmental degradation is a serious problem worldwide. High-tech products can allow people to live with much less environmental impact. Many areas of the world cannot rapidly bootstrap a 20th century manufacturing infrastructure. Molecular manufacturing technology can be self-contained and clean; a single packing crate or suitcase could contain all equipment required for a village-scale industrial revolution. Finally, MM will provide cheap and advanced equipment for medical research and health care, making improved medicine widely available. Much social unrest can be traced directly to material poverty, ill health, and ignorance. MM can contribute to great reductions in all of these problems, and in the associated human suffering. Advanced nanotech can solve many human problems Technology is not a panacea. However, it can be extremely useful in solving many kinds of problems. Improved housing and plumbing will increase health. More efficient agriculture and industry save water, land, materials, and labor, and reduce pollution. Access to information, education, and communication provides many opportunities for self improvement, economic efficiency, and participatory government. Cheap, reliable power is vital for the use of other technologies and provides many conveniences. Today, technology relies on distributed manufacturing, which requires many specialized materials and machines and highly trained labor. It is a difficult and slow process to develop an adequate technology base in an impoverished area. However, molecular manufacturing does not require skilled labor or a large supporting infrastructure; a single personal nanofactory (PN) with a single chemical supply and power supply can produce a wide range of useful, reliable products, including copies of itself to double the manufacturing infrastructure in hours, if desired. Thus PNs, and many of their products, are "appropriate technology" for almost any setting. Many diverse problems are related to water A few basic problems create vast amounts of suffering and tragedy. According to a World Bank document, water is a major concern of the U.N. Almost half the world's population lacks access to basic sanitation, and almost 1.5 billion have no access to clean water. Of the water used in the world, 67% is used for agriculture, and another 19% for industry. Residential use accounts for less than 9%. Much industry can be directly replaced by molecular manufacturing. Agriculture can be moved into greenhouses. Residential water can be treated and recycled. Adoption of these steps could reduce water consumption by at least 50%, and probably 90%. Water-related diseases kill thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of children each day. This is entirely preventable with basic technology, cheap to manufacture— if the factories are cheap and portable. MNT can provide similar opportunities in many other areas. Much water today is wasted because it is almost but not entirely pure. Simple, reliable mechanical and electrical treatment technologies can recover brackish or tainted water for agricultural or even domestic use. These technologies require only initial manufacturing and a modest power supply. Physical filters with nanometer-scale pores can remove 100% of bacteria, viruses, and even prions. An electrical separation technology that attracts ions to supercapacitor plates can remove salts and heavy metals. The ability to recycle water from any source for any use can save huge amounts of water, and allow the use of presently unusable water resources. It can also eliminate downstream pollution; a completely effective water filter also permits the generation of quite "dirty" waste streams from agricultural and industrial operations. As long as the waste is contained, it can be filtered, concentrated, and perhaps even purified and used profitably. As with anything built by molecular nanotechnology, initial manufacturing costs for a water treatment system would be extremely low. Power will be cheap (see below). Well-structured filter materials and smaller actuators will allow even the smallest filter elements to be self-monitoring and self-cleaning. Self- contained, small, completely automated filter units can be integrated in systems scalable over a wide range. Cheap greenhouses can save water, land, and food Moving agriculture into greenhouses can recover most of the water used, by dehumidifying the exhaust air and treating and re-using runoff. Additionally, greenhouse agriculture requires less labor and far less land area than open-field agriculture, and provides greater independence from weather conditions including seasonal variations and droughts. Greenhouses, with or without thermal insulation, would be extremely cheap to build with nanotechnology. A large-scale move to greenhouse agriculture would reduce water use, land use, and weather-related food shortages. Nanotech makes solar energy feasible The main source of power today is the burning of carbon-containing fuels. This is generally inefficient, frequently non-renewable, and dumps carbon dioxide and other waste products (including radioactive substances from coal) into the atmosphere. Solar energy would be feasible in most areas of the globe if manufacturing and land were sufficiently cheap and energy storage were sufficiently effective. Solar electricity generation depends on either photovoltaic conversion, or concentrating direct sunlight. The former works, although with reduced efficiency, on cloudy days; the latter can be accomplished without semiconductors. In either case, not much material is required, and mechanical designs can be made simple and fairly easy to maintain. Sun-tracking designs can benefit from cheap computers and compact actuators. Energy can be stored efficiently for several days in relatively large flywheels built of thin diamond and weighted with water. Smaller energy storage systems can be built with diamond springs, providing a power density similar to chemical fuel storage and much higher than today's batteries. Water electrolysis and recombination provide scalable, storable, transportable energy. However, there is some cost in efficiency and in complexity of technology to deal safely with large-scale hydrogen storage or transportation. Solar solutions can be implemented on an individual, village, or national scale. The energy of direct sunlight is approximately 1 kW per square meter. Dividing that by 10 to account for nighttime, cloudy days, and system inefficiencies, present-day American power demands (about 10 kW per person) would require about 100 square meters of collector surface per person. Multiplying this figure by a population of 325 million (estimated by the US Census Bureau for 2020) yields a requirement for approximately 12,500 square miles of area to be covered with solar collectors. This represents 0.35% of total US land surface area. Much of this could be implemented on rooftops, and conceivably even on road surfaces. Living spaces can be greatly improved A person's living space has a significant effect on their quality of life. The ability to exclude insects will greatly reduce certain diseases. Thermal insulation can increase comfort and often reduce energy consumption. Water and sewage piping and fixtures increase sanitation and decrease disease. House styles are as varied as cultures, and living spaces cannot and should not be standardized worldwide. However, building supplies and home systems (e.g. power, plumbing) require less diversity, and useful components may be built from predesigned plans. In many areas of the world, something as simple as a water filter or a mosquito net can save many lives. Such small, simple products would cost almost nothing to produce. In areas that already use rectilinear apartment construction, including most inner cities, double-layer, vacuum-insulated wall panels can greatly decrease noise transmission between adjacent living spaces as well as providing excellent thermal insulation. Living space reform cannot be approached as a single problem with an easy solution, but the worst problems can easily be addressed piecemeal. Computers will be cheap enough for everyone Molecular manufacturing can create computer logic gates a few nanometers on a side, and efficient enough to be stacked in 3D. An entire supercomputer can fit into a cubic millimeter, and cost a small fraction of a cent. With actuators smaller than a bacterium, a thin, high- resolution computer display will be easy (and cheap) to build. With GHz mechanical frequencies, a mostly-mechanical device can sense and produce radio waves. Thus computation, communication, and display are all feasible with pure diamondoid technology. Computers, PDAs, and cell phones can be cheap enough for even the poorest people on earth to own one, and contain more than enough processing capability for a voice interface for illiterate people. Distributed networking hardware can likewise be very cheap, and distributed networking software, though not trivial, is already being developed. The whole world could get "wired" within a year. Nanotech can help the environment Environmental degradation is a serious problem with many sources and causes. One of the biggest causes is farming. Greenhouses can greatly reduce water use, land use, runoff, and topsoil loss. Mining is another serious problem. When most structure and function can be built out of carbon and hydrogen, there will be far less use for minerals, and mining operations can be mostly shut down. Manufacturing technologies that pollute can also be scaled back. In general, improved technology allows operations that pollute to be more compact and contained, and cheap manufacturing allows improvements to be deployed rapidly at low cost. Storable solar energy will reduce ash, soot, hydrocarbon, NOx, and CO2 emissions, as well as oil spills. In most cases, there will be strong economic incentives to adopt newer, more efficient technologies as rapidly as possible. Even in areas that currently do not have a technological infrastructure, self-contained molecular manufacturing will allow the rapid deployment of environment-friendly technology. Improved medicine can be widely available Molecular manufacturing will impact the practice of medicine in many ways. Medicine is highly complex, so it will take some time for the full benefits to be achieved, but many benefits will occur almost immediately. The tools of medicine will become cheaper and more powerful. Research and diagnosis will be far more efficient, allowing rapid response to new diseases, including engineered diseases. Small, cheap, numerous sensors, computers, and other implantable devices may allow continuous health monitoring and semi-automated treatment. Several new kinds of treatment will become possible. As the practice of medicine becomes cheaper and less uncertain, it can become available to more people. Removing causes of distress may reduce social unrest Much social unrest can be traced directly to material poverty, ill health, and ignorance. Molecular manufacturing can eliminate material poverty—at least by today's standards; post- MM standards may be considerably higher. Products of molecular manufacturing can greatly improve health by eliminating conditions that cause disease, including poor sanitation, insects, and malnutrition. Widespread availability of computers and communication devices can provide exposure to other cultures and diverse points of view, and create an understanding of a broader social context in which to evaluate actions and beliefs. (Unfortunately, mass communication also gives demagogues a wider audience, which may undo some of this benefit.) MM certainly will not cure or prevent social unrest, but it will remove many tangible causes of distress. BENEFITS AND APPLICATIONS After more than 20 years of basic nanoscience research and 10 years of focused R&D under the NNI, applications of nanotechnology are delivering in both expected and unexpected ways on nanotechnology’s promise to benefit society. Nanotechnology is helping to considerably improve, even revolutionize, many technology and industry sectors: information technology, energy, environmental science, medicine, homeland security, food safety, and transportation, among many others. Described below is a sampling of the rapidly growing list of benefits and applications of nanotechnology. Most benefits of nanotechnology depend on the fact that it is possible to tailor the essential structures of materials at the nanoscale to achieve specific properties, thus greatly extending the well-used toolkits of materials science. Using nanotechnology, materials can effectively be made to be stronger, lighter, more durable, more reactive, more sieve-like, or better electrical conductors, among many other traits. There already exist over 800 everyday commercial products that rely on nanoscale materials and processes: Nanoscale additives in polymer composite materials for baseball bats, tennis rackets, motorcycle helmets, automobile bumpers, luggage, and power tool housings can make them simultaneously lightweight, stiff, durable, and resilient. Nanoscale additives to or surface treatments of fabrics help them resist wrinkling, staining, and bacterial growth, and provide lightweight ballistic energy deflection in personal body armor. Nanoscale thin films on eyeglasses, computer and camera displays, windows, and other surfaces can make them water-repellent, antireflective, self-cleaning, resistant to ultraviolet or infrared light, antifog, antimicrobial, scratch-resistant, or electrically conductive. Nanoscale materials in cosmetic products provide greater clarity or coverage; cleansing; absorption; personalization; and antioxidant, anti-microbial, and other health properties in sunscreens, cleansers, complexion treatments, creams and lotions, shampoos, and specialized makeup. Nano-engineered materials in the food industry include nanocomposites in food containers to minimize carbon dioxide leakage out of carbonated beverages, or reduce oxygen inflow, moisture outflow, or the growth of bacteria in order to keep food fresher and safer, longer. Nanosensors built into plastic packaging can warn against spoiled food. Nanosensors are being developed to detect salmonella, pesticides, and other contaminates on food before packaging and distribution. Nano-engineered materials in automotive products include high-power rechargeable battery systems; thermoelectric materials for temperature control; lower- rolling-resistance tires; high-efficiency/low- cost sensors and electronics; thin-film smart solar panels; and fuel additives and improved catalytic converters for cleaner exhaust and extended range. High-resolution image of a polymer-silicate nanocomposite. This Nano-engineered materials make material has improved thermal, mechanical, and barrier properties and superior household products such as degreasers can be used in food and beverage containers, fuel storage tanks for and stain removers; environmental sensors, alert systems, air purifiers and filters; aircraft and automobiles, and in aerospace components. antibacterial cleansers; and specialized paints and sealing products. Nanostructured ceramic coatings exhibit much greater toughness than conventional wear-resistant coatings for machine parts. In 2000, the U.S. Navy qualified such a coating for use on gears of air-conditioning units for its ships, saving $20 million in maintenance costs over 10 years. Such coatings can extend the lifetimes of moving parts in everything from power tools to industrial machinery. Nanoparticles are used increasingly in catalysis to boost chemical reactions. This reduces the quantity of catalytic materials necessary to produce desired results, saving money and reducing pollutants. Two big applications are in petroleum refining and in automotive catalytic converters. Nanotechnology is already in use in many computing, communications, and other electronics applications to provide faster, smaller, and more portable systems that can manage and store larger and larger amounts of information. These continuously evolving applications include: Nanoscale transistors that are faster, more powerful, and increasingly energy-efficient; soon your computer’s entire memory may be stored on a single tiny chip. Magnetic random access memory (MRAM) enabled by nanometer‐scale magnetic tunnel junctions that can quickly and effectively save even encrypted data during a system shutdown or crash, enable resume‐play features, and gather vehicle accident data. Displays for many new TVs, laptop computers, cell phones, digital cameras, and other devices incorporate nanostructured polymer films known as organic light-emitting diodes, or OLEDs. OLED screens offer brighter images in a flat format, as well as wider viewing angles, lighter weight, better picture density, lower power consumption, and longer lifetimes. Other computing and electronic products include Flash memory chips for iPod nanos; ultraresponsive hearing aids; antimicrobial/antibacterial coatings on mouse/keyboard/cell phone casings; conductive inks for printed electronics for RFID/smart cards/smart packaging; more life-like video games; and flexible displays for e-book readers. The difficulty of meeting the world’s energy demand is compounded by the growing need to protect our environment. Many scientists are looking into ways to develop clean, affordable, and renewable energy sources, along with means to reduce energy consumption and lessen toxicity burdens on the environment. Prototype solar panels incorporating nanotechnology are more efficient than standard designs in converting sunlight to electricity, promising inexpensive solar power in the future. Nanostructured solar cells already are cheaper to manufacture and easier to install, since they can use print-like manufacturing processes and can be made in flexible rolls rather than discrete panels. Newer research suggests that future solar converters might even be “paintable.” Nanotechnology is improving the efficiency of fuel production from normal and low-grade raw petroleum materials through better catalysis, as well as fuel consumption efficiency in vehicles and power plants through higher-efficiency combustion and decreased friction. Nano-bioengineering of enzymes is aiming to enable conversion of cellulose into ethanol for fuel, from wood chips, corn stalks (not just the kernels, as today), unfertilized perennial grasses, etc. Nanotechnology is already being used in numerous new kinds of batteries that are less flammable, quicker- charging, more efficient, lighter weight, and that have a New solar panel films incorporate nanoparticles to create higher power density and hold electrical charge longer. lightwieght, flexible solar cells. One new lithium-ion battery type uses a common, nontoxic virus in an environmentally benign production process. Nanostructured materials are being pursued to greatly improve hydrogen membrane and storage materials and the catalysts needed to realize fuel cells for alternative transportation technologies at reduced cost. Researchers are also working to develop a safe, lightweight hydrogen fuel tank. Various nanoscience-based options are being pursued to convert waste heat in computers, automobiles, homes, power plants, etc., to usable electrical power. An epoxy containing carbon nanotubes is being used to make windmill blades that are longer, stronger, and lighter-weight than other blades to increase the amount of electricity that windmills can generate. Researchers are developing wires containing carbon nanotubes to have much lower resistance than the high- tension wires currently used in the electric grid and thus reduce transmission power loss. To power mobile electronic devices, researchers are developing thin-film solar electric panels that can be fitted onto computer cases and flexible piezoelectric nanowires woven into clothing to generate usable energy on-the- go from light, friction, and/or body heat. Energy efficiency products are increasing in number and kinds of application. In addition to those noted above, they include more efficient lighting systems for vastly reduced energy consumption for illumination; lighter and stronger vehicle chassis materials for the transportation sector; lower energy consumption in advanced electronics; low-friction nano-engineered lubricants for all kinds of higher-efficiency machine gears, pumps, and fans; light-responsive smart coatings for glass to complement alternative heating/cooling schemes; and high-light-intensity, fast-recharging lanterns for emergency crews. Besides lighter cars and machinery that requires less fuel, and alternative fuel and energy sources, there are many eco-friendly applications for nanotechnology, such as materials that provide clean water from polluted water sources in both large-scale and portable applications, and ones that detect and clean up environmental contaminants. Nanotechnology could help meet the need for affordable, clean drinking water through rapid, low-cost detection of impurities in and filtration and purification of water. For example, researchers have discovered unexpected magnetic interactions between ultrasmall specks of rust, which can help remove arsenic or carbon tetrachloride from water (see image); they are developing nanostructured filters that can remove virus cells from water; and they are investigating a deionization method using nano-sized fiber electrodes to reduce the cost and energy requirements of removing salts from water. Nanoparticles will someday be used to clean industrial water pollutants in ground water through chemical reactions that render them harmless, at much lower cost than methods that require pumping the water out of the ground for treatment. Researchers have developed a nanofabric "paper towel," woven from tiny wires of potassium manganese oxide, that can absorb 20 times its weight in oil for cleanup applications. Nanorust cleans arsenic from drinking water. Many airplane cabin and other types of air filters are nanotechnology-based filters that allow “mechanical filtration,” in which the fiber material creates nanoscale pores that trap particles larger than the size of the pores. They also may contain charcoal layers that remove odors. Almost 80% of the cars sold in the U.S. include built- in nanotechnology-based filters. New nanotechnology-enabled sensors and solutions may one day be able to detect, identify, and filter out, and/or neutralize harmful chemical or biological agents in the air and soil with much higher sensitivity than is possible today. Researchers around the world are investigating carbon nanotube “scrubbers,” and membranes to separate carbon dioxide from power plant exhaust. And researchers are investigating particles such as self- assembled monolayers on mesoporous supports (SAMMS™), dendrimers, carbon nanotubes, and metalloporphyrinogens to determine how to apply their unique chemical and physical properties for various kinds of toxic site remediation. Nanotechnology has the real potential to revolutionize a wide array of medical and biotechnology tools and procedures so that they are more personalized, portable, cheaper, safer, and easier to administer. Below are some examples of important advances in these areas. Quantum dots are semiconducting nanocrystals that can enhance biological imaging for medical diagnostics. When illuminated with ultraviolet light, they emit a wide spectrum of bright colors that can be used to locate and identify specific kinds of cells and biological activities. These crystals offer optical detection up to 1,000 times better than conventional dyes used in many biological tests, such as MRIs, and render significantly more information. Nanotechnology has been used in the early diagnosis of atherosclerosis, or the buildup of plaque in arteries. Researchers have developed an imaging technology to measure the amount of an antibody-nanoparticle complex that accumulates specifically in plaque. Clinical scientists are able to monitor the development of plaque as well as its disappearance following treatment (see image). Before (left) and after (right) picture of atherosclerotic placque in a mouse artery. Placque accumulation is shown in this image by the increasing intensity of color, from blue to yellow and red. (Image courtesy of M. Nahrendorf, MGH Center for Systems Biology, Harvard Medical School) Gold nanoparticles can be used to detect early-stage Alzheimer’s disease. Molecular imaging for the early detection where sensitive biosensors constructed of nanoscale components (e.g., nanocantilevers, nanowires, and nanochannels) can recognize genetic and molecular events and have reporting capabilities, thereby offering the potential to detect rare molecular signals associated with malignancy. Multifunctional therapeutics where a nanoparticle serves as a platform to facilitate its specific targeting to cancer cells and delivery of a potent treatment, minimizing the risk to normal tissues. Research enablers such as microfluidic chip-based nanolabs capable of monitoring and manipulating individual cells and nanoscale probes to track the movements of cells and individual molecules as they move about in their environments. Research is underway to use nanotechnology to spur the growth of nerve cells, e.g., in damaged spinal cord or brain cells. In one method, a nanostuctured gel fills the space between existing cells and encourages new cells to grow. There is early work on this in the optical nerves of hamsters. Another method is exploring use of nanofibers to regenerate damaged spinal nerves in mice. In addition to contributing to building and maintaining lighter, smarter, more efficient, and “greener” vehicles, aircraft, and ships, nanotechnology offers various means to improve the transportation infrastructure: Nano-engineering of steel, concrete, asphalt, and other cementitious materials, and their recycled forms, offers great promise in terms of improving the performance, resiliency, and longevity of highway and transportation infrastructure components while reducing their cost. New systems may incorporate innovative capabilities into traditional infrastructure materials, such as the ability to generate or transmit energy. Nanoscale sensors and devices may provide cost-effective continuous structural monitoring of the condition and performance of bridges, tunnels, rails, parking structures, and pavements over time. Nanoscale sensors and devices may also support an enhanced transportation infrastructure that can communicate with vehicle-based systems to help drivers maintain lane position, avoid collisions, adjust travel routes to circumnavigate congestion, and other such activities. Future sensor systems will be able to use multiple physical phenomena to sense many analytes simultaneously for a variety of applications, some of which are noted above. Illustrated here are (left to right) an optical tranducer, which measures light; an electro/chemical tranducer, which measures electrical properties; a magnetic tranducer, which measures changes to the local magnetic field; and a mechanical transducer, which detects changes in motion. Besides moving forward to capture these and many other benefits of nanotechnologies, the NNI is also committed to addressing the potential environmental, health, and safety impacts and various societal, legal, or ethical implications of nanotechnology to avoid or minimize any undesirable or unintended effects of nanotechnology.
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