Nanotechnology is the science that studies the use of matter on a nanometric scale. The history of nanotechnology has its beginning in the speech that Richard Feynman gave at the University of Caltech (California). In this famous speech, Feynman was the first to talk about nanotechnology, nanoscience and about all the possibilities it offers. Today, the field of nanotechnology is in full growth and has high hopes that are waiting to be fulfilled. This article describes in detail the history of Nanotechnology, its importance, applications, trends, and the future.
Nano has been the most heard word in recent years in science fiction films and also in the media in connection with food or other products. But what exactly is nanotechnology, and who came up with the idea of researching the properties of tiny particles and how was it discovered?
The term nanotechnology describes all areas of research in the field of single atoms up to structural sizes of 100 nanometers or less. One nanometer equals one-billionth of a meter. The peculiarities of research in the nanoscale represent the altered properties of the objects in this size range. Volume properties take a back seat to the laws of quantum physics and thus allow unprecedented effects. Nanotechnology is now used in all technological research areas. These include, for example, the chemical industry, the semiconductor industry, mechanical engineering, and food technology.
The origin of Nanotechnology
The nanotechnology that has become so popular in the last decade has its origin back in 1959 when the American physicist and later Nobel laureate gave the lecture "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom". In it, he dealt with the possible influence of molecules of the order of atoms. The term nanotechnology itself was first used by the Japanese professor Norio Taniguchi in 1974 in a contribution to semiconductor processes and possible applications. The imagination thus aroused by the researchers finally led to the development of the scanning tunneling microscope in 1981, for which the physicists Binning and Rohrer were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1986.
Nanotechnology deals with the manipulation of matter at the size of 10-9 nm. Scientists did not consider its importance until Richard Feynman gave his speech, although, in some occasions in laboratories, they managed to create an atomic level compound with properties similar to those of current nanotechnology. In fact, the popular belief is that at some point in history, graphene sheets and nanotubes were manufactured that are so popular today.
In the past, nanotechnology was not studied until several books were published talking about it and its potential. Richard Feynman's famous phrase "there is a lot of space in the background" made him an iconic figure of the twentieth century and made many other scientists interested in nanotechnology.
At the time of the speech of Feynman, many scientific fields seemed to have reached a point of stagnation and Richard Feynman was the first to venture to say that in the smallest (atomic level), there is a science that could give great results. He proposed the example of the human body, in which the manipulation of atoms and life cells (DNA) that are of great importance in the functioning of the organism could be interesting. Its correct use could give the solution to many problems and could be very useful in the development of cures for future diseases.
The scanning tunneling microscope then allowed the rapid gain of experience in the field of quantum mechanics. At the end of the 1980s and early 1990s, the scientist Eric Drexler developed revolutionary ideas for the creation and construction of complex machines and materials made of single atoms. These visions have motivated many scientists since then to deal critically with the history and development of nanotechnology and the associated possibilities. Source
Applications of Nanotechnology
Thanks to improved materials and surfaces, nanotechnology is now improving the performance of medical diagnostic and therapeutic devices, textiles, household appliances and, not least, communication technologies. For the consumer, it is difficult to see where the nanoparticles are used. The lotus effect is certainly an important aspect. Self-cleaning surfaces improve the cleaning of car paints or windows. The additives on which these coatings are based are also used in paints and roof tiles, for example, in order to delay the weathering and aging for as long as possible.
But in many other things of everyday life, there is nanotechnology. Waterproof nanoparticle-clad clothing, sunscreens with active ingredients to enhance UV protection, and edible oil with nanoparticle-packed vitamins are just a few examples. Finished soups and table salt trickle out of the packaging thanks to nanotechnology. The cosmetics industry also uses nanoparticles to develop previously unknown properties in creams and powders.
Today, the sports industry manufactures ultra-light tennis rackets, skis or bicycles with improved materials. Golf balls allow a more precise game due to the nano-coating and the associated improvement in-flight characteristics.
Tires are more resistant thanks to the use of nanoparticles and the rolling properties are improved. This extends the life and contributes to a reduced fuel requirement.
Smaller and smaller cell phones and computers are also partly due to the use of nanotechnology and its success story. The ever-better quality of the lighting of displays in navigation devices or smartphones is directly dependent on optimized nano-sized light sources.
This overview clearly shows that in the meantime, there are many applications in all areas of life - and new ones are added every week. Source
Trends in Nanotechnology
Nanotechnology opens up an almost unlimited field of research activity. Especially in medicine, nanotechnology offers exciting opportunities. Novel diagnostic procedures and therapies promise wide-ranging development potential. For example, novel drugs can be developed. Supported by the progressive miniaturization in the electronics industry, interdisciplinary research teams are researching so-called nanobots. Prototypes already available today should continue to shrink below the size of blood cells and be able to move in the human organism. These nanobots could then transport drugs and dose them specifically to the disease centers.
The development of long fibrous devices that can be introduced into the human organism would be the consequent continuation of minimally invasive surgery. Substances could be more specifically administered and, for example, tissue samples.
Classic mechanical and plant engineering also wants to benefit from innovative materials whose structures show improved properties during machining and in use. So today the rotors of wind turbines are designed with a special coating, which has a positive effect on efficiency.
The ever-focused area of power generation and storage is developing new systems to quench the hunger for energy from previously unused sources. Novel concepts for energy generation, for example from ambient temperature or air movement combined with the optimized capacity of the storage media, promise a more efficient use of the energy available in nature.
The food industry is researching foods that, for example, have a longer shelf life due to the nanoparticles or, depending on their temperature and duration, have different flavors in the domestic oven. But also in agriculture, nanotechnology is used for developments in the field of biological crop protection.
At the end of the 1990s, enthusiasm for the new technology was mixed with critical voices warning of the dangers. Various studies and publications highlighted possible effects from different perspectives. However, given the limitations of human knowledge about future developments and the associated potentials, no generally accepted recommendations can be made. In particular, the impact of nanoparticle uptake into living things has made critics cry out. Although enrichment of the particles does not necessarily mean damage to the organisms, uncertainty remains in view of the hitherto sparse long-term experience.
Critics expressed concerns that nanoparticles, like asbestos, could have a negative impact on humans. A few years ago, American researchers from the University of Massachusetts published a study showing that nanoparticles can damage DNA and trigger the development of cancer. They recommend high safety standards for the manufacturing processes and warn against contamination of the environment with the nanoparticles. As a consequence, insurance companies limit the maximum amount of cover for insurance contracts in nanotechnology. They demand international safety standards.
The positive development opportunities offered by the use of nanotechnology are counteracted by the hitherto unanswered questions about the dangers and risks. It is therefore important to develop nanotechnology in a social context. The Government of Germany, therefore, created Nanokommission in 2008. It is made up of representatives from business, consumer protection, and nature conservation associations as well as representatives from various ministries, bringing together the most important stakeholders. The Commission is concerned with potential opportunities as well as nanotechnology risks to the environment and health. In various working groups, detailed questions on consumer and environmental protection are discussed.
Future of Nanotechnology
Nanotechnology is often referred to as "the future technology" that can solve many problems. Some even talk about a nanotechnology revolution. Nanotechnology definitely brings tremendous benefits and potential, but the fact that even the youngest technology has its dangers, and much less explored, should be well known to everyone.
It is claimed that environmental problems such as pollution and climate change could also be solved. However, there are also negative properties that nanotechnology entails. For example, the development of usable nanoparticles requires enormous energy and water consumption as well as the use of toxic solvents and chemicals. In addition, the use of nano packaging promotes longer shelf life of food, which in turn means that the food continues to be transported over long distances. Everyone knows that global transport is a major environmental burden. For humans, dangers arise when such nano-pesticides are ingested via food, as research cannot yet foresee how the human body absorbs and degrades these substances. Source
In conclusion, Nanotechnology has now gone well beyond the scope of science fiction stories. Nanotechnologies are now mainly interested in the composition of materials, but their potential applications go far beyond. Nanotechnology has seen a prosperous growth, it is well used and can be fundamental in the near future. It has caused a positive impact on life in the sectors of medicine, food, energy that could change our lives which makes it worthy of a science fiction story. This has become possible only due to the revolutionary speech of Richard Feynman as he led the foundation of this industry and motivated others to explore this technology. In the future, much more advanced applications of nanotechnology are expected due to their unique characteristics.