Pioneered by the intellectual work by the Nobel Prize winner physicist Richard Feynman in his lecture (1959), “There’s plenty of room at the bottom: An invitation to enter a new field of physics”, nano technology is a work or more generally a field still in its developmental phase. Owing to its perpetual progress, it is hard to get hold of a single and simple definition of nanotechnology that all might agree on. But according to Feynman, direct manipulation of individual atoms and molecules on a nano or sub atomic scale is particularly known as what we contemporarily call “Nanotechnology”.
Although at the time when this novel concept was coined, it didn’t gain much recognition and largely went unnoticed. It was supposed to inspire a whole new field of physical chemistry with applications in almost all the fields of science but anyways, I suppose the then people were rather too busy having ice lollies, sipping margaritas and getting tanned on the beach.
Beginning in the 1980s, almost three decades from the day this concept was first brought forward, nanotechnology advocates brought into light Feynman’s lecture and cited it as the foundational work behind their research and progress.
What is the basic concept behind Nanotechnology?
To comprehend an inkling of the concept behind nanotechnology, one must first be cognizant of the following information:
- One nano meter is a billionth of a meter.
- There are almost 25 million nano meters in an inch.
- A newspaper is 100,000 nano meters thick.
- On a comparative scale, if one nano meter were a pea, then one meter would be all the peas of this world piled up in a mountain.
Nanotech or nanoscience allow us to observe and control or manipulate individual atoms or molecules of whatever substance we want to. But something as minute as an atom is impossible to be seen with the naked eye. In fact, it’s also not possible to see atoms with our ordinary microscopes that are used in colleges and schools. For seeing atoms or molecules at the nanoscale, Scanning Tunneling microscopes (STM) or Atomic Force microscopes (AFM) are needed.
As far as the basic concept behind Nanotechnology is concerned, the pioneer behind this field had a far more flexible understanding of it than the scientists who have been or are currently researching on Nanotechnology.
Richard Feynman considered a vast number of ramifications of the general ability to control and manipulate matter on a nano scale. (A nano scale ranges from 1 – 100 nanometers where 1 nanometer is equals to one billionth of a meter).
He suggested the possibility of making nano scale machines that would arrange the atoms in whatever order the humans desired. (Who doesn’t know how the new Iron Man suit works!)
He also presented the concept of “swallowing the doctor” which was based on the premise that a tiny surgical robot or nano bot would be swallowed by the patient which would in turn cure the patient of any illness by targeting specifically the roots of the disease from the inside.
Feynman also proposed that nano bots would further produce nano machines or tools to operate and function because as size becomes smaller, one would have to redesign some tools because the relative strength of various forces would change.
Applications of Nanotechnology:
Everything in this world, from the clothes we wear to the foods and drinks we consume, our own bodies and even the unearthly things that are beyond contemplation are made up of atoms and molecules. So, controlling the atomic and molecular structure of anything would mean desired manipulation that can help us attain infinite benefits in various application of the field.
- The first application that nanotechnology can serve mankind is in energy storage, production and conversion. Nano catalysts can generate large quantities of hydrogen and carbon nano tubes can be used in composite film coatings for solar cells.
- Nanotechnology and nanoscience can enhance agricultural productivity. Nanomagnets can be used for removal of contaminants from soil and nano sensors can inform about the quality of soil and also monitor plant health.
- Treatment and processing of water and remediation can be quickened through nanotech. Nano sensors can be used for detection of contaminants and pathogens.
- Diagnosis of any disease that is still not curable such as cancer or tumors can be possible through root screening.
- Nanotech can augment our ability to deliver drugs in the body where current machinery and medication can’t deliver as of now.
- Nanotechnology can make concrete and cement structures more robust so as to avoid any possibility of water seepage.
- Food processing and storage can use nanocomposites for plastic film coatings that can prolong the purity and life of the food.
- Air Pollution can be mitigated through nano catalysts that are far more efficient, cheaper, reliable and better-controlled catalytic converters.
- Nano sensors can be used for pest detection as well as nano particles for new insecticides, pesticides and insect repellents.
- Health conditions can also be monitored using nano tubes and nano particles.
Although modern nanotechnology and nanoscience have branched into quite novel fields, nanoscale materials have been in use for centuries but quite unnoticed. Alternate-sized gold and silver particles were used by medieval era artists to create vivid colors in the stained-glass windows of churches centuries ago. The artists then weren’t knowledgeable of the fact that the process they actually employed to create such works of wonder actually led to transformative changes in the composition of the materials they were working with.
Scientists and researchers of this contemporary modern era are looking for ways to manufacture materials at the nano-scale so that benefits from their enhanced properties can be extracted. These properties include increased strength, decreased weight, high rate of control of the spectrum of light and much greater reactivity as when compared with their larger counter parts. But will the benefits of nano tech outweigh the implications it might pose in the future? This is a question that awaits answering in the future.