What is Nanotechnology? Why do we need nanotechnology? what are its various applications? Know all about it here.
What is nanotechnology?
Nanotechnology is the understanding and control of matter at the nanoscale, at dimensions between approximately 1 and 100 nanometers, where unique phenomena enable novel applications.
It is made of nanoscale science, engineering, and technology- nanotechnology involves imaging, measuring, modeling, and manipulating matter at this nano length scale.
Matter such as gases, liquids, and solids can exhibit unusual physical, chemical, and biological properties at the nanoscale, differing in important ways from the properties of bulk materials and single atoms or molecules.
Some nanostructured materials are stronger or have different magnetic properties compared to other forms or sizes of the same material. Others are better at conducting heat or electricity. They may become more chemically reactive or reflect light better or change color as their size or structure is altered.
One nanometer is a billionth of a meter or 10-9 of a meter. Here are a few illustrative examples:
- There are 25,400,000 nanometers in an inch
- A sheet of newspaper is about 100,000 nanometers thick
- On a comparative scale, if a marble were a nanometer, then one meter would be the size of the Earth
Birth of nanotechnology:
The ideas and concepts behind nanoscience and nanotechnology started with a talk entitled “there is plenty of room at the bottom” by physicist Richard Feynman at an American Physical Society meeting at the California Institute of Technology (CalTech) on December 29, 1959, long before the term nanotechnology was used. In his talk, Feynman described a process in which scientists would be able to manipulate and control individual atoms and molecules.
Richard Feynman is considered the father of nanotechnology.
The most important property that renders nanomaterials useful in a wide range of applications is the high surface-to-volume ratio. This one property alone has given the wide variety of applications of nanotechnology.
The applications of nanotechnology widely range from industrial, medicinal, to energy uses. These include more durable construction materials, therapeutic drug delivery, and higher-density hydrogen fuel cells that are environmentally friendly.
Nanoparticles and nanodevices are highly versatile through modification of their physiochemical properties, hence they have found uses in nanoscale electronics, cancer treatments, vaccines, hydrogen fuel cells, and nanographene batteries.
Nanotechnology’s use of smaller-sized materials allows for the adjustment of molecules and substances at the nanoscale level, which can further enhance the mechanical properties of materials or grant access to less physically accessible areas of the body.
Nanotechnology in health:
Nanobiotechnology and bionanotechnology refer to the combination of ideas, techniques, and sciences of biology and nanotechnology.
Nanobiotechnology refers to the application of nanoscale objects for biotechnology while bionanotechnology refers to the use of biological components in nanotechnology.
Nanotechnology is already leading to dramatic improvements in health care. Scientists are using nanoparticles to target tumors, in drug delivery systems, and to improve medical imaging. Some nanoparticle-based treatments are multi-functional; they can both find tumors and carry drugs for treatment. Nanotechnology is also being used to cut the cost and increase the speed of DNA sequencing and provide scaffolding for tissue regeneration or wound treatment.
Nanomedicine, the application of nanotechnology in medicine, draws on the natural scale of biological phenomena to produce precise solutions for disease prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. Below are some examples of recent advances in this area:
- Cancer detection and treatment: Gold nanoparticles as probes for the detection of targeted sequences of nucleic acids, and they are also being clinically investigated as potential treatments for cancer and other diseases.
- Drug Delivery: Nanotechnology researchers are working on a number of different therapeutics where a nanoparticle can encapsulate or otherwise help to deliver medication directly to cancer cells and minimize the risk of damage to healthy tissue. This has the potential to change the way doctors treat cancer and dramatically reduce the toxic effects of chemotherapy.
- Imaging and diagnostic tools: Tools enabled by nanotechnology are paving the way for earlier diagnosis, more individualized treatment options, and better therapeutic success rates.
- Diagnosis and treatment: Nanotechnology is being studied for both the diagnosis and treatment of atherosclerosis, or the buildup of plaque in arteries. In one technique, researchers created a nanoparticle that mimics the body’s “good” cholesterol, known as HDL (high-density lipoprotein), which helps to shrink plaque.
- Genetics: The design and engineering of advanced solid-state nanopore materials could allow for the development of novel gene sequencing technologies that enable single-molecule detection at low cost and high speed with minimal sample preparation and instrumentation.
- Regenerative medicine: Research in the use of nanotechnology for regenerative medicine spans several application areas, including bone and neural tissue engineering. Novel materials can be engineered to mimic the crystal mineral structure of human bone or used as a restorative resin for dental applications. Researchers are looking for ways to grow complex tissues with the goal of one-day growing human organs for transplant. Researchers are also studying ways to use graphene nanoribbons to help repair spinal cord injuries; preliminary research shows that neurons grow well on the conductive graphene surface.
- Vaccine development: Nanomedicine researchers are looking at ways that nanotechnology can improve vaccines, including vaccine delivery without the use of needles. Researchers also are working to create a universal vaccine scaffold for the annual flu vaccine that would cover more strains and require fewer resources to develop each year.
- Smart pills: The term ‘smart pills’ refers to nano-level electronic devices that are shaped and designed like pharmaceutical pills but perform more advanced functions such as sensing, imaging, and drug delivery. Nanotechnology has previously helped in developing various kinds of smart pills, such as the PillCam, a capsule with a miniature video camera, and dose-tracking pills.
- Nanobots: Nanobots are micro-scale robots, which essentially serve as miniature surgeons. They can be inserted into the body to repair and replace intracellular structures. They can also replicate themselves to correct a deficiency in genetics or even eradicate diseases by replacing DNA molecules. This property is still under development.
- Nanofibres: Nanofibers are being used in wound dressings and surgical textiles, as well as in implants, tissue engineering, and artificial organ components. Scientists are working on developing ‘smart bandages’, which when left on the site, will absorb itself into the tissue once the wound heals. Embedded nanofibres in these smart bandages can contain clotting agents, antibiotics, and even sensors to detect signs of infection.
- COVID–19: For image-based and clinical diagnostic of COVID-19, nanomaterials are emerging as promising substrates because of their unique optical, electronic, magnetic, and mechanical properties. Nanomaterials that have been proposed for viral detection include metal, silica, and polymeric nanoparticles, quantum dots, and carbon nanotubes.
Concerns of using nanotechnology in healthcare:
- Toxicity: Scientists are primarily concerned about the toxicity, characterization, and exposure pathways associated with Nanomedicine that might pose a serious threat to human beings and the environment.
- Lack of proper knowledge about the effect of nanoparticles on biochemical pathways and processes of the human body.
- Expensive processes and treatments make them less desirable.
Nanotechnology helps to overcome the limitations of conventional dosage forms. This technology promises to be used in disease treatment as well as diagnostics with high efficacy. Therefore, nanomedicine has been gaining widespread popularity. However, nanoparticles and nanotechnology, in general, is a relatively novel concept, and very little experimental data is available about their harmful effects. This lack of information may lead to impediments in the safety regulation of nanotherapeutics and present before us unique assessment challenges.
Previous year question:
What do you understand by nanotechnology and how is it helping in the health sector? (Answer in 150 words) (UPSC Mains 2020 GS Paper III)