What is nanotechnology?

Nanotechnology is an area of ​​research and innovation that deals with the creation of ‘things’ – typically, materials and devices – at the scale of atoms and molecules. A nanometer is one billionth of a meter: ten times the diameter of a hydrogen atom. The average diameter of a human hair is 80,000 nanometers. On such scales, the general laws of physics and chemistry no longer apply. For example, the characteristics of materials, such as their color, strength, conductivity, and reactivity, can vary greatly between nanoscale and macro. Carbon ‘nanotube’ is 100 times stronger than steel but six times lighter.

What can nanotechnology do?

Nanotechnology is considered as an ability to increase energy consumption capacity, clean the environment and solve major health problems. It is said to be able to increase mass manufacturing production at significantly lower costs. Nanotechnology products will be smaller, cheaper, lighter and more functional, and nanotech advocates claim less energy and less raw materials are needed.

What are experts saying about nanotechnology?

In June 1999, Richard Smalley, Nobel Prize winner in chemistry, addressed the US House Committee on Science on the benefits of nanotechnology. “The impact of nanotechnology on people’s health, wealth and people’s lives,” he said, would be at least equal to the combined effects of microelectronics, medical imaging, computer-aided engineering and man-made polymers developed in this century. ”

Concern about potential effects on human and environmental health

However, others are also as cautious as Smalley is enthusiastic. Scientist Eric Drexler, who coined the term nanotechnology, has warned of developing “extremely powerful, extremely dangerous technology”. In his book Angins of Creation, Drexler imagined that self-replicating molecules created by humans could escape from our control. Although this theory has been widely maligned by researchers in the field, many concerns remain about the effects of nanotechnology on human and environmental health, as well as the impact the new industry has on the North-South division. . Activists worry that the science and development of nanotechnology will progress faster than policy-makers and may devise appropriate regulatory measures. They state that there should be an informed debate to determine the balance between risks and benefits.

The Global Market for Nanotechnology Products

Given the promise of nano technology, the race is to harness its potential – and to benefit from it. Many governments believe that nanotechnology will usher in a new era of productivity and wealth, and this is reflected in the way public investment in nanotechnology research and development has evolved over the past decade. In 2002, Japan was devoting US $ 750 million per year to the region, a six-fold increase over the 1997 figure.

Nanotechnology Global Market Value Estimate

The US National Science Foundation predicts that the global market for nanotech-based products will exceed US $ 1 trillion within 15 years. Paul Miller, senior researcher at the British policy research organization Demos, said in 2002 that “already, about one-third of the research budget of the largest science-based firms in the US is going to nanotech”, while the US National Nanotechnology Cooperative The budget requested US $ 849 million in 2004, up from US $ 116 million in 1997.

What about nanotechnology in the developing world?

Among developing countries, Brazil, Chile, China, India, the Philippines, South Korea, South Africa, and Thailand have shown their commitment to nanotechnology by establishing government-funded programs and research institutes. Researchers at the University of Toronto Joint Center for Bioethics classify these countries as ‘front-runners’ (China, South Korea, India) and ‘middle ground’ players (Thailand, Philippines, South Africa, Brazil, Chile) . In addition, Argentina and Mexico are ‘up and comers’: although they have research groups studying nanotechnology, their governments have yet to organize dedicated funds.

Nanotechnology in Thailand and China

In May 2004, the Thai government announced plans to use nano technology in one percent of all consumer products by 2013. By then their market value is estimated to be 13 trillion baht (more than US $ 320 billion at the contemporary exchange rate). In fact, Thailand has fully adopted nanotechnology and its development is a major commitment of the Thai government. Similarly, China announced in May 2004 that nanotechnology was central to its long-term national science and technology plan.

What are the potential benefits for developing countries?

Nanotechnology promises new solutions to problems that hinder the development of poor countries, particularly in relation to health and sanitation, food security, and the environment. In its 2005 report titled Innovation: Applied Development, the United Nations Millennium Project Task Force on Knowledge, Science, Technology and Innovation wrote that “nanotechnology in the developing world

Technology is particularly important, as it involves little labor, land, or maintenance; It is highly productive and inexpensive; And it requires only a small amount of material and energy ”.

Effects of nanotechnology on health and hygiene

Nanotechnology is already useful as a tool in health care research. In January 2005, researchers at the US Massachusetts Institute of Technology used ‘optical tweezers’ – pairs of small glass beads brought together or separated using a laser beam – to study the elasticity of red blood cells For those infected with malaria parasites (see) Small devices deal with malaria). The technology is helping researchers understand how malaria spreads in the body.

How nanotechnology can improve drug delivery

But nanotechnology may one day lead to cheaper, more reliable systems for drug-delivery. For example, materials manufactured at the nanoscale can provide encapsulation systems that protect and secrete attached drugs in a slow and controlled manner. This can be a valuable solution in countries that do not have adequate storage facilities and distribution networks, and for complex medicine patients who cannot afford the time or money to travel long distances for medical travel.

Nanoscale filters for better water purification systems

Filters structured on the nanoscale offer the promise of better water purification systems that are cheaper to manufacture, longer lasting and can be cleaned. Other similar technologies can absorb or neutralize toxins such as arsenic, which put poison on the water table in many countries, including India and Bangladesh.

food security

Using nanosensors on crops and nanoparticles in fertilizers

Tiny sensors provide the possibility of monitoring pathogens on crops and livestock, as well as measuring crop productivity. In addition, nanoparticles can increase the efficiency of fertilizers. However, Swiss insurance company SwissRe warned in a report in 2004 that they could also increase the ability of potential toxins, such as fertilizers, to penetrate deeper layers of soil and travel more distances.

Using Nanotechnology Techniques to Grow Crops in Hostile Conditions

In addition, researchers in both developed and developing countries are developing crops that are capable of growing in ‘hostile’ conditions, such as in areas with high levels of salt in the soil (sometimes due to climate change and rising seas Due to the level of) or low level water. They are doing this by manipulating the genetic material of crops, working on a scale of nanotechnology with organic molecules.

How nanotechnology methods can be used in the areas of renewable and sustainable energy to help the environment

Applications of nanotechnology in the field of renewable and sustainable energy (such as solar and fuel cells) can provide cleaner and cheaper sources of energy. These will improve both human and environmental health.

Nanoscale filters and nanoparticles can be used to clean the environment

For example, small wastewater filters can prevent emissions from industrial plants, destroying even the smallest residue before being released into the environment. Similar filters can clean emissions from industrial combustion plants. And nanoparticles can be used to clean oil spills, separating oil from sand, removing it from rocks and the feathers of birds caught in a spill.

Concerns about nanoparticles and toxicity

Research has shown that nano-sized particles accumulate in the nasal cavities, lungs, and brain of mice, and carbon nanometrics, known as ‘bikyballs’, induce brain damage in fish. Wywan Howard, a toxicologist at the University of Liverpool in the United Kingdom, warns that the small size of nanoparticles can make them toxic, and warns that full hazard assessment is necessary before a manufacturing license is obtained.

Concern about nanoparticles in environment

A number of interested parties, including the Canadian ETC Group and insurance company SwissRe, have expressed their concern over the release of small particles, which are able to go very far in the environment due to their small size. They warn that we do not yet know how these particles will work in the environment or what chemical reactions they will cause when other particles are found. However, these same groups also meet with advocates of nanotechnology, who feel that the region can offer ‘cleaner’ technologies and, ultimately, a cleaner environment. But mostly, the concern is for the lack of research into the potential dangers of nanotechnology to human health, society, and the environment.

Ensuring that progress in nanotechnology is met by studies in ethics and social impact

In a paper published in early 2003, Anissa Minesivala, Abdulla Dar and Peter Singer of the Universe of Toronto, Canada wrote, “As the science of nanotechnology advances, ethics lags behind. We believe that its There is a danger of derailing. ” If nanotechnology seriously studies its moral, environmental, economic, legal and social impact, it does not reach the pace of progress in science. According to Singer and his colleagues, in 2001, the US-based National Nanotechnology Initiative allocated US $ 16–28 million to study social implications, but spent less than half that amount.

Risk assessment and concerns raised about nanotechnology

Many non-governmental organizations are calling for a greater risk assessment in the case of a nanotech research postponement, the ETC Group of Canada. He, and others including the US-based Center for Responsible Nanotechnology, have expressed concern over the following aspects of nanotechnology:

• Solid materials, such as toxicity of solid silver, do not help in estimating the toxicity of nanoparticles of the same material.

• Nanoparticles have the ability to persist and accumulate in the atmosphere.

• They could accumulate in the food chain.

• They can have unpredictable effects on human health.

• The public has not been adequately involved in the debate on applications, uses, and regulation of nanotechnology.

• ‘Gray Goo’: Small robots arising from nanotechnology can achieve self-replication capability.

• If rich countries are the main drivers of the development of nanotechnology, then applications benefiting developing countries will be side-lined.

• Until rapid action is taken, research in nanotechnology can progress faster than systems to regulate its applications and their uses.

What ETC Group Says About Nanotechnology

While some of these concerns, mainly the ‘gray goo’ theory, have been widely maligned by researchers in the field, most have remained high on the agenda of activists. The ETC group has demanded that all United Nations moratorium applications be banned which may come into contact with the human body. The ETC Group has also expressed concern that control of nanotechnology research and development may remain firmly in the hands of industrialized countries. This will result in a bias for developing countries that benefit rich countries but ignore the needs of the poor.

Looking at nanotechnology from the perspective of developing countries

“Significant nanotech activity is already taking place in developing countries,” writes the United Nations Millennium Project Task Force on Science Technology and Innovation in a 2005 report. “This activity can be deduced from a debate that fails to take the perspective of developing countries into account.” MasterOrs should be cautious that this activity can be ruined if public and policy debates fail to take account of developing countries’ perspective. At the time of writing, a global dialogue of stakeholders was underway to determine the potential effects of nanotechnology on such countries (see whether small sciences can bring big solutions to the world’s poor?).

Nanoengineering – Engineering at Molecular Scale

Advances in nanotechnology have made progress in microscopy. The scanning tunneling microscope (patented in 1982) allowed researchers to pick up individual atoms and move them, along with allowing the molecules to be copied. This is the essence of ‘bottom up’ or molecular nanotechnology – the notion that molecular structures can be made atom-by-atom.

Vision of controlled production at the molecular level through self-replicating leasers assemblers

Some claim that nanotechnology may eventually take the minimization of controlled production to the molecular level in the same way as in human cells when, for example, enzymes break and rearrange the bond holding the molecule together. Huh. The vision is of potential self-replicating ‘assemblers’ – small devices such as miniaturized versions of unit assembling lines – to manufacture ‘nanometers’, new products that revolutionize manufacturing, medicine, space exploration and computing Will bring

Nano-conveyor belts, ‘DNA robots’ and spinning molecular structures

This theory goes far beyond current realities and some warn that self-replicating ‘nanobots’ are a great threat to humanity, others consider the idea impossible. However, a recent production of nano-conveyor belts, which move nanotubes as well as the currents of particles instead of an individual, represents a major breakthrough, as in a ten-nanometer long run of a ‘DNA robot’ A pavement is also capable with walking. Made of DNA. Other important developments are the spinning discovery of molecular structures, which increase the potential for power generation and controllable motion at the molecular level.

Top down production

In the ‘top down’ approach, which still dominates the field, pieces of material are mechanized and made into nanoscale structures.

Where is nanotechnology going?

Nanotech knowledge is growing rapidly. The number of scientific publications in the field increased from about 200 in 1997 to more than 12,000 in 2002. Despite this, relatively few products using nanoparticles are currently on the market. Overall, those that are already on sale do not address the above mentioned issues of health, food safety, and the environment. Rather, they have focused on consumer applications including improved sunscreen, crack-resistant paint, and scratch-proof spectacle lenses. Like electric and internal combustion engines, nanotechnology is a capable technology. As such, it is predicted to initiate a series of innovations.

What are the unknowns and what other questions are being asked?

But what about ‘unknown’? Is Nanotechnology Over-Hypnotized? Can it fulfill its promise without incorporating social norms and security? Are its proponents realistic in their claims about what nanotechnology can achieve? Or is it a fugitive technique that wreaks havoc with human health and the natural environment?

Conclusion: The debate involved is the path to nanotechnology

Cross-sectoral involvement of scientists, governments, civil society organizations, and the general public will be needed to assess the role of nanotechnology and guide its progress. Informed debate is necessary to try to avoid the polarization of ideas depicted by the issue of genetic modification. The purpose of this ‘quick guide’ is to provide a range of relevant information for those who want to better understand and participate in this important debate.