Tiny world around us – Nanotechnology

Due to the definition, nanotechnology is the branch of technology based on structures with dimensions at the nanoscale, which is about 1 to 100 nanometers (1 nanometer is 10-9 of a meter). Especially it is manipulation of individual atoms and molecules. So nanoscience works in extremely small things, which can have their application in other fields of science like biology, chemistry, medicine or engineering.

The very first ideas about nanotechnology come from a talk “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom” by physicist Richard Feynman at the American Physical Society meeting at the California Institute of Technology in 1959. But only over a decade later, the term of nanotechnology was created by professor Norio Taniguchi. The development of modern nanotechnology came along with the invention of the scanning tunnelling microscope in 1981.

To imagine better how small nanoscience is, we just need to take a look at a sheet of newspaper and now think that its thickness is around 100 000 nanometers! Thanks to nanotechnology we are able to manipulate and control single atoms and molecules. But to have such an opportunity, devices working in the nanoscale are needed. Nanotechnology is relatively a new science because tools that can see such an extremely small things were invented about 30 years ago. Today researchers can use devices like the scanning tunnelling microscope (STM) or the atomic force microscope (AFM).

Of course, nanoparticles always exist in nature and science, but the invention of new more sensitive tools gave scientists huge capabilities to investigate and understand better nanoscale processes. It brings a lot of possibilities for all other fields of science. Changes in the structure of matter in the nanoscale can cause significant changes in its macroscale properties. Furthermore, nanoscale materials have far larger surface areas than similar masses of larger-scale materials. Just try to imagine the 1 cubic centimetre of volume filled with cubes 1 nanometer on the side, it gives you 1021 of such a cubes. Now count their area: each of 1-nanometer-sized cubes has an area of 6 square nanometers, so their total surface area comes to 6 000 square meters! It is one-third larger area than a football field!

Changes in material properties at the nanoscale level give great possibilities to improve existing ones and to create new materials. Nanotechnology can find its application in many different fields, for example in drug delivery. Nowadays, researchers try to find methods of delivering drugs to tumours that will not be harmful to the surrounding healthy cells. A lot of these methods are based on nanoparticles, which after finding a cancer cell adheres to it and releases the drug into it. The other example of nanotechnology application is manufacturing materials with nano-sized components to improve performance, like using nano-sized whiskers in the fabric that cause water to bead up on the surface. Nanoparticles are more reactive than some other larger particles. It can have its usage in many chemical cases, starting from cleaning stuff and filtering the water. Moreover, nano-sized particles of carbon (for example nanotubes) are extremely strong and also light, so they can improve the strength of materials without increasing their weight. Nanotubes have their application for example in automobile industry and medicine. So in general further applications of nanotechnology allow tennis balls to last longer, golf balls to fly straighter and cars to use less fuel. Possibilities of nanotechnology are almost unlimited. Researchers try to create nanorobots, which will help for example in diagnostic, targeted drug delivery, stimulating cells growth, new energy systems and new sensing devices.

In conclusion, nanotechnology is becoming a new hope of future and can help people to solve some of the biggest problems the world has to face nowadays.

– by Milena G. –