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Understanding How Nanotechnology Works
Imagine a piece of material that is divided into billion parts for every one meter. The resulting nanoparticles are so minute that one would have to make use of specially developed high-powered microscopes, in order to observe the properties of a particle. Materials may have been derived from gaseous, liquid or solid natural matters, or from the by-products of certain human activities like emissions and fumes.
The diminution of size down to a nanoscale allows scientists to control, create, move, alter and combine the tiniest bits into equally diminutive-sized structured materials. They may be in the form of nanowires, nanofilms, nanotubes, nanoflakes or nanoshells. They may vary in dimensions where one can be larger than the other, but still based on nano measurement.
The advent of nanoscience and nanotechnology, made it possible for researchers to analyze and categorize each part according to the physical and chemical properties of each cell. In so doing, new materials and devices are reinvented or customized by assembling a select mixture of cell properties in different nanoforms. After which, the appropriate engineering method, mainly with the application of heat or electricity, is employed to deal with the processing.
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The Many Contributions of Nanoscience and Its Technologies
Nanoscience has been around for more than 20 years. The continuous research and development of nanotechnology applications for the past 10 years, have brought forth numerous contributions. Accordingly, more than 800 commercial products are being produced by using engineering applications utilizing nanoscale structures.
Listed below are different products ranging from personal grooming items, personal effects, to household products, appliances as well as house construction materials, computer and other electronic applications, and various resources being used, in creating renewable energy, improving medical technology, alleviating environmental degradations and improving transportation efficiency. Here’s a quick rundown of the many benefits of nanotechnology:
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Nanopolymer materials are varied and used for a wide range of industrial and commercial applications to produce products that require extra-strength but kept lighter in terms of weight, and to add better protection against wear and tear. They also offer high elasticity and introduce better conductivity for electricity. Examples of products that make use of nanopolymers include: luggage, automobile bumpers, motorcycle helmets, tennis rackets, baseball bats, and housings for power tools.
There are also the nano composite polymers for food packaging as a means to minimize carbon dioxide leaching for carbonated beverages. They can also reduce the outflow of moisture but at the same time increase oxygen inflow. Food are preserved or kept fresh for longer periods, while the use of built-in nanosensors added to the packaging allows the earily detection of spoiled food content.
Nanoclay additives are used for extra-strength bullet proof vests and items that make use of wrinkle and stain resistant fabrics or ceramics that don’t break easily. They are nano composites used to enhance the properties of plastic products like Nylon, EVA, PET, PP and PE to:
- add stiffness and thermal stability,
- increase the barrier properties against wetness or UV transmission,
- reduce static cling,
- improve resistance against flame, chemicals, scratches, and
- add better dimension to products by having clarity to which paint applications have better appearance.
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These are coating technologies for high-performance structural applications for products like camera and computer displays, eyeglasses and similar products that make use of glass materials. The thin film coating enhances the glass’ anti-reflective and anti-fog qualities aside from increasing its resistance to ultraviolet or infrared rays and abrasions.
Ingredients in nanoscale sizes enhance a cosmetic’s absorption, coverage, anti-oxidizing and anti-microbial properties. Examples of these cosmetic products are sunscreens, cleansers, skin treatments, creams, shampoos, lotions and special make-ups.
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Various Nanomaterials Used for Engineering Applications
- 1. These include the nanomechanical and electrical systems used for high-powered rechargeable batteries.
- 2. Thermoelectric materials used for controlling temperatures, for lowering roll-resistance in tires, for the thin films used for solar panels, fuel additives and to improve the performance of catalytic converters for cleaner emissions.
- 3. There are also the degreasers and stain removers, alert systems, air purifiers, air filters, antibacterial solutions, specialty paints and sealants.
4. Nanocoatings for engineering applications can extend the life of mechanical parts that puts into motion the smallest power tool to the most high-powered industrial machinery.
5.The benefits of nanotechnology likewise cover the need for improving chemical reactions by addressing the problems caused by its resulting pollutants. Nano-based solutions can reduce toxicity of fumes and emissions without necessarily diminishing the quality of the product. The most prominent examples are the catalytic materials used by petroleum refineries and the automotive catalytic converters.
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Different Nanostructures for IT and Electronic Applications
(a) A wide-range of nanoelectronic applications for computers, communication equipment and other electronic devices have made it possible for smaller and portable systems to store lager amounts of information and for longer durations.
(b) There are the nanoscale transistors, which make smaller computer, not only energy and cost efficient but also capable of storing data by using just a single chip.
(c) Nano-engineered computers are likewise equipped with nanoscale magnetic tunnel junctions, which enable the computer system to effectively save data, including those that have been encrypted, during sudden power outages or computer crashes. This ability is technically known as the MRAM or Magnetic Random Access Memory. The latter is also used for gaming consoles as it enables the equipment to resume the game play, where it left off at the time of the unexpected shutdown.
(d) Notice how the latest models for TV and computer monitors and displays for digital cameras and cellphones offer brighter images, better density and wider viewing angles yet they come in flat formats or thinner and more compact versions for lower power consumption but for a longer lifetime. The nano structured polymer films known as organic light-emitting diodes (OLED) make all these possible.
(e) There are also the Flash memory chips, the conductive inks for electronically-printed RFID/ smart packaging and cards, the self-adjusting displays for e-book readers, the technology which makes the images of a video game more life-like in appearance, the hearing aids that are ultra-responsive and the antibacterial coatings applied to computer keyboards, mouse as well as cell phone casings.
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Nanotechnology Initiatives for Future Benefits
For Developing Sustainable Energy Resources
Nanotechnology has made it possible for scientists to develop renewable energy sources that will not harm the environment any further, as they produce energy with low levels of toxic emission while at the same time affordable to many.
1. Consider the possibility of having inexpensive solar power in the near future by using nanostructured solar cells. The use of the latter has made it possible for manufacturers to produce solar panels into flexible rolls using print-like processing that equates to lower costs and easier installations.
2. Currently, researchers are into developing thin-film solar panels that fits into portable computer cases and mobile electronic devices or be woven into flexible nanowires and attached to garments as a means for generating usable energy, either from natural light, from friction or from one’s own body heat while on the go.
3. Nano-bioengineering researches and development are also currently aimed at enabling enzymes to convert cellulose, wood chips, cornstalks and organic perennial grasses into ethanol fuel.
4. Moreover, researchers are onto the possibility of converting heat wastes into usable energy power as they are generated by computers, vehicles, homes, factories, power plants and the like.
5. Windmill blades are being developed into lightweight nanostructures that are stronger than the ordinary blades with the capacity to increase the amount of electricity generated.
6. Other developments for nanowires are for their utilization in electric grids by adding carbon nanotubes to create lower resistance. This then will result to the reduction of power that is lost while energy is being transmitted to power lines.
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For Environmental Applications
Recent statistics show that around eighty percent of the cars sold in the U.S are outfitted with nano technology-based filters, which allow mechanical filtrations to capture particles the size of pores. A number of airplane cabins are now using air filters made from nano fibers for the same filtration capability plus the extra feature of charcoal layers that can remove foul odors.
Numerous nanotechnology-based, eco-friendly applications and materials allow the extraction of clear water from polluted water sources, including those used as potable water.
- There are current developments for rapid and low-cost filtration for water purification systems and methods. The utilization of nanostructured filters will enable the system to detect and remove virus cells present in water. The addition of nanoscale fiber electrodes can reduce the amount and cost of energy to be used.
- Advancement for nanofabrics regarding the use of nanoscale wires made from potassium manganese oxide, in order to come up with paper towels that have twenty times more absorption capacity for oil-clean-up applications.
- Other initiatives include researches for more sophisticated nanosensors and solution instruments that will one day be able to detect, isolate, and sift through harmful chemicals and biological elements in the air and soil at higher levels of sensitivity.
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Advancements in Nanobiosystems for Medical and Biotechnological Tools
Nanotechnology is already in use for studying plaque build-up in arteries or atherosclerosis. Medical researchers monitor the post-diagnostic improvements and eventual disappearance of plaque by employing nano-based imaging technology.
Nanoscale planks, nanowires and nanochannels are being used as components of biosensors for molecular imaging in order to identify molecular or genetic events as a means to detect rare molecular signals associated with malignancy.
1) Medical diagnostics will have better tools for locating and identifying the cells being sought, for purposes of studying their biological activities in ways that could produce more information. The aim is to improve the efficiency of semiconducting nanocrystals for providing optical detection, a thousand-fold better than the traditional dyes used in most biological testing processes.
2) There are advanced studies in the use of gold nanoparticles for the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease with greater sensitivity by a hundred fold.
3) Multi-functional medical therapeutics designed to target only the cancer cells as a means to minimize the risks of damaging the normal tissues.
4) Hope is underway for damaged spinal cord or brain cells by using nanostructured gel–fills to spur the growth of new nerve cells.
Still, despite the existing and future benefits of nanotechnology and its sciences, many are wary of their potentially undesirable effects on the environment and for overall safety. Accordingly, the "National Nanotechnology Institute" harness expertise not only for developing numerous nano-based technologies but also for determining the related risks. Any information gathered are communicated to the respective regulatory agencies to ensure protection for the environment and public health.
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Reference Material and Image Credit Section:
- Nano.gov “Benefits and Applications”.
Image Credits Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons:
- 16 bit parallel processing Nanobrain by Matengelecn--
- DEPTHSandWIDTHS by P. Fraundorf
- Polyethylene oxyde (PEO, Mw 4kD) nanometric crystallites (4nm) by Nanolane
- Image contrast 35 nm silver layer superlens by Nicholas Fang / Berkley Lab US Dept. of Energy
- Hybrid solar cells by Seth Darling (of the Center for Nanoscale Materials) and Argonne National Laboratory.
- Selfassembly Organic Semiconductor Trixler LMU by Frank Trixler; adapted from LMU/CeNS: Organic Semiconductor Nanostructures
- Low-resistance by Stiner905
- Airborne selective particle detection - Safe Air - Nanotechnology by CILAS
- Biological and technological scales compared under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.