In Medicine, Sports, Transportation and Environment
Essentially, nanotechnology involves the study
and use of nanoparticles, which range between 1 and 100 nanometers in size.
structures range in scale depending on the type of atoms and molecules to
submicron dimensions. Here, it is worth noting that nanoparticles are made up
of clusters of atoms/molecules. This makes them larger in size
compared to individual atoms. However, they are still much smaller compared to
micro-organisms or fine particles.
For instance, a nanoparticle is composed of a few hundred atoms. Compared to cells and other micro-organisms (single-celled) nanostructures are too small to be viewed using ordinary microscopes. For this reason, very advanced, high power microscopes have to be used.
Manipulation of these structures has allowed the technology to be used in various industries to produce different types of products for various applications.
* The length of a typical bacterium is about 200
nanometers while an atom is about 1 nanometer.
By manipulating nanoparticles, and thus the
atoms they are composed of, it's possible for scientists to produce a variety
of nanotechnology products for different applications. However, nanoparticles
and atoms/molecules are very small, and thus difficult to work with given that
they cannot be seen with the naked eye.
In order to overcome these difficulties,
scientists have had to find ways through which they can design and engineer
materials down to the atom or atom cluster level. In this case, atoms and
molecules are arranged in a manner that allow for the creation of new materials
and structures. Since this involves working at the nano level, the technology
has come to be known as nanotechnology.
* By arranging given atoms differently,
properties of matter are changed. For instance, while coal and diamonds are
made of the same type of atoms (carbon atoms) they have different properties
where diamonds are harder compared to coal.
There are different types of nanoparticles used
for different purposes. Applications of different nanoparticles depend on their
The following are some of the major types of nanoparticles:
Molecular Base and Structures
There are two types of molecular base
nanoparticles including the organic and non-organic. The organic type of
nanoparticles contains carbon and includes nanotubes and buckyballs. These types
of nanoparticles are commonly referred to as fullerenes. As such, they exist in
structures that look like balls or tubes.
Inorganic nanoparticles include the noble and
magnetic metal as well as semi-conductors. Here, the magnetic type including
cobalt, iron and nickel can be easily manipulated using a magnetic field while
Noble metals such as copper, silver and platinum tend to be versatile agents
that are commonly used for various biomedical applications. Lastly, semiconductors
such as zinc oxide are produced chemically and also used for various industrial
and biological applications.
Structures - Based on structure, nanoparticles are divided
into three groups, these include:
Liposomes - Essentially,
liposomes are composed of phospholipids bilayer that appears like vesicles.
These tiny structures have a hydrophilic head, which means that they dissolve
in water. However, they are also have a hydrophobic tail (hydrophobic means
that it repels water or does not bond with water molecules) which is made up of
the lipid layers. These structures are particularly useful in medicine and the delivery of drugs.
Dendrimers - Dendrimers are
a type of nanoparticle that tend to be highly branched. This type of
nanoparticle is also divided into the globular structured nanoparticles that
come with a central core and globular structured ones that lack a central core.
Dendrimers are also widely used in various industries as well as in medicine.
Carbon nanotubes - Carbon
nanotubes are structures of nanoparticles that appear as cylindrical
structures. These carbon allotropes present unique properties that make them
important in various applications including electronics and optics among many
Synthesis of Nanoparticles
There are a number of methods that are used for
the purposes of synthesizing nanoparticles so as to have control over their
size, structure, quality and purity among others. The method used is often to determine the state of the end product. However, depending on the intended
outcome, scientists use the following methods:
Hydrothermal synthesis - This method is conducted
within an autoclave using an aqueous solution and high temperatures (above
water boiling point). In most cases, this method is used for the purposes of
preparing Titanium dioxide nanoparticles (TiO2). In this case, the method is preferred
given that it helps control a number of factors including size, morphology, as
well as the surface area of the particles by controlling pressure, temperature
and components like additives.
Solvothermal technique - This technique is
similar to hydrothermal method, but allows for the use of a number of other
solvents. One of the biggest advantages of this method is that it can be used
for producing many types of nanoparticles. In addition, it allows control over
the size and shape of the nanoparticles, which means that scientists can be
able to produce their intended nanoparticle by simply controlling such factors
as the solvents used and temperature.
Chemical vapor deposition - This method has an
advantage in that it helps produce thin films of great purity and high performance.
Here, volatile precursors react on the surface of the substrate to produce the
film. However, as is the case with the other types of methods, controlling a number
of factors determine the end product. Here, temperature, the rate of reaction
and the concentration of the precursors used are the control factors. This
method has been shown to be particularly ideal for synthesis of titanium
Thermal Decomposition and
Pulsed Laser Ablation - This method simply involves decomposing of metal alkoxides and
salts. This is achieved through the use of high energy that can be obtained
from heat or electricity. However, the end product is also dependent on such
factors as the concentration of the precursors, their flow rate as well as the
environment they are being produced in.
Some of the other methods used for nanoparticle
Templating – This is the synthesis process that used
morphological properties with reactive deposition/dissolution.
Combustion - The process that used rapid heating of a solution
that contains redox groups
Gas phase methods - This is either done
physically or mechanically
Nanostructures are produced from nanoparticles,
which are in turn used to make non-material.
The following methods are used for synthesis
The top-down method is also referred to as miniaturization.
Here, such physical processes as crushing and grinding are used to break down
large particles. Here, physical force is also used for the purposes of
combining smaller units into a larger unit of the material. This method has
the advantage of imperfections of the structure due to the physical force used.
Unlike top-down, bottom-up typically involves building
the structure from bottom up. This is done using atoms, molecules or clusters.
In this case therefore, synthesis is done atom by atom until the structure is
complete. Given that there is sufficient control, scientists are able to
control size and shape in order to produce given structures/material as
Marketplace Nanotechnology Products
Advancements in nanotechnology have resulted in the technology being widely used in various industries and fields from medicine to energy where it is used to help improve our day to day lives.
While research studies are still being conducted
to improve and perfect nanotechnology for medical use, several advancements
have allowed the technology to be used in healthcare. One of the most recent
examples of this is the use of gold nanoparticles as probes.
nanoparticles are being used for the purposes of detecting nucleic sequences.
In addition, the technology has also been shown to have the potential of
helping in cancer treatment.
The technology has also been shown to have the
potential to not only diagnose, but also treat atherosclerosis. Here,
scientists have already managed to create a nanoparticle that is similar to HDL
(high-density lipoprotein) used to reduce the size of plaque in arteries. This
can greatly help patients with high blood pressure.
Currently, more studies are being directed
towards the use of nanotechnology for regenerative medicine. These studies aim
to improve nanotechnology in medicine for bone and tissue
engineering. This will allow scientists to grow complex tissues for organ
transplant as well as use the technology to repair spinal cord injuries. In
doing so, the technology will help treat numerous conditions that continue to
affect many patients today.
Energy and Electronic Applications
With the ever increasing energy demands,
nanotechnology has been shown to significantly contribute to the production of
alternative energy. Many scientists are optimistic that nanotechnology will
allow for the production of affordable, clean and renewable energy, which will
help deal with the current environmental issues.
One of the areas that nanotechnology is
currently being used is towards improving the production of fuel from raw
petroleum materials. Through improved catalysis, it has become possible to
reduce the amount of fuel consumed in addition to enhancing combustion while
decreasing friction. This helps control pollution thereby benefiting the
In addition, the technology is being used to produce carbon
nanotube wires that will significantly reduce resistance thereby reducing power
loss during transmissions.
With regards to clean and renewable energy,
nanotechnology is being used in solar panels where it helps in the conversion
of sunlight (energy from the sun) to electricity. With advancements in the
technology, it is expected to better and affordable power in the near future.
In addition to solar panels, nanotechnology is also being used to produce
batteries that not only charge quickly, but are also lighter and more efficient.
Some of the other areas in which the technology is being used for better energy
Windmills - The technology
is being incorporated in windmill blades to make longer, stringer and lighter
blades to increase efficiency.
Electronics - nanotechnology is being used to enhance the density of memory ships and
minimize the size of transistors
In tennis, nanotechnology has been used to
design tennis racquets that are more stable and powerful. This has been
achieved by adding nanotubes to the racquet frames thereby enhancing their
strength. This has been found to help players gain better control of the
racquets when it comes in contact with the ball.
In addition to the racquets,
scientists are also working to improve the balls used in tennis and have them
bouncing longer. The technology will see butyl rubber being combined with clay
Apart from the sport of tennis, nanotechnology
is also being used in the following sports:
(nano-composite) are being used for the purposes of manufacturing gold clubs.
By replacing the former material with nano-composite, it has become possible to
not only make the clubs lighter, but also stronger. This offers a great
advantage in that they increase power and accuracy while at the same time
making the golf clubs easier to carry around as they are lighter.
Athletic shoes - Using nanotechnology,
scientists have been able to help in the manufacture of soft and flexible shoes
by combining hard and soft molecules. These shoes have been shown to increase
stability while ensuring comfort.
Racing (cars) - In racing, NanoBionics
Smart Particles are being used on the surface of cars used in order to increase
speed. By using these particles, the car surface becomes smoother allowing the
cars to move faster by decreasing drag. In addition, this makes it easier to
clean the car.
Swimming - Nanotechnology is also
being used on swimwear to develop ultra-light wear for the swimmer. These fabrics
have been shown to help swimmers glide through water more easily. The technology is also being improved to manufacture
clothes that can repel sweat allowing the athletes to remain dry.
In transportation, recent research studies are
being directed towards the production of lighter, smarter and more efficient
means of transport (vehicle, spacecraft and ships etc). By using
nanotechnology, scientists are optimistic that they will be able to develop
better and more efficient products such as polymer nanocomposite parts, better
batteries and tires among others.
These are aimed at enhancing efficiency and
safety. In addition, scientists are working on nanoscale sensors among other
devices that will improve safety.
As for the environment,
nanotechnology presents the following benefits:
Technology for low cost detection of impurities
and water treatment
One of the biggest issues particularly in developing and third
world countries is clean water. Scientists see the potential of using nanotechnology for cheap detection and treatment that would make it
affordable to get clean water.
Using molybdenum disulphide, it has become
possible to efficiently desalinate water using less energy. Here, thin film membranes
that have nanopores are used to filter water more efficiently.
Nanofabric paper towels for oil cleanup
These paper towels are
made using tiny potassium manganese oxide capable of absorbing up to 20 times
their weight. This will make it easier to clean up oil and avoid significant
damage to the environment.
This technology is being
used to help in detecting chemical and biological agents present in both water
and air. In such cases, appropriate actions can be taken.
Some of the other applications of nanotechnology
in our day to day life include:
Additives for fabric
treatment. This allows for more efficient body armors (lightweight armor capable
of better deflecting ballistic energy)
Nanoscale films on glass
surfaces such as eyeglasses, cameras and monitors that make them water
Smart fabrics with
nanoscale sensors that is washable and durable. Some of these fabrics have
electronics that help monitor health.
Nanoparticles for boosting
chemical reactions (catalysis) thereby saving time, money and reducing
Degreasers that are used to
Nanotechnology used in skin
care products that can deliver vitamins into the body through the skin
Microscopy and Nanotechnology
As previously mentioned, ordinary microscopes
cannot be used to view nanostructures given their nano size. For this
reason, more advanced microscopes have to be used.
There are a number of
microscopy techniques that can achieve this, they include:
This method involves several techniques that are
used to observe the sample. Here, scanning tunneling microscopy, atomic force
microscopy as well as chemical force microscopy is used for the purposes of
characterizing nanostructures with either atomic or subatomic spatial
In this case, the sharp tip of an atom scans the surface of the
sample allowing imaging through measuring current that is flowing through the
tip or acting on it. Using this technique, it has become possible for
scientists to not only manipulate the samples during product development, but
also determine areas of improvement.
Typically, this microscopy technique's set-up
includes a sharp tip on the cantilever of the microscope, a laser, a scanner, a
position sensitive detector as well as control electronics. The technique works
by measuring the force between the tip and solid surface. Here,
scientists/technicians can capture images having detected the force as the tip
is scanned across the sample.
*force acting on the tip in this case also
represents the distance between the tip and atom surface.
This technique can be divided into Transmission
Electron Microscopy (TEM) and Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM). Here, images
are formed once the electron beam interacts with the specimen. This is due to
the fact that measurable signals are generated as electrons are transmitted,
diffracted or backscattered.
For TEM, electrons are used to form the image of
the sample. However, with SEM, it is backscattered electrons as well as
secondary electrons that are emitted from the sample that create the image.
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