After over 20 years of being the hottest next big thing, the benefits and applications of nanotechnology are finally being felt and visualized. Along the way, nanoscience continues to surprise us with the diversity of its sweep of industrial applications.
Nanotechnology is helping to significantly improve some industry sectors. With the benefits and applications of nanotechnology, other sectors find themselves being revolutionised with the technology. These include transportation, energy, information technology, food safety, environmental science, security, and medicine among many sectors.
Tinkering At The Molecular Level
Many of the benefits and applications of nanotechnology being realised depend on tailoring material structures at extremely small scales to achieve specific properties. The end result is a significantly expanded materials science repertoire. Now, materials can be engineered to be stronger, lighter, more durable, and superior electrical conductors.
Here is a sample of four broad areas where nanotechnology is weaving its magic:
- Clear nanoscale films applied to windows, glasses, computer and camera displays. These films can make them scratch-resistant, self-cleaning, water- and residue-repellent, antireflective, ultraviolet and infrared light resistant, anti-fog, antimicrobial, or electrically conductive.
- Nanoscale materials are creating washable, durable “smart fabrics” embedded with flexible nanoscale sensors. These sensors enable health monitoring, solar energy capture, and energy harvesting via movement.
- The use of nanoscale additives in polymer composite materials in everything from tennis rackets, bicycles and motorcycle helmets, to baseball bats, luggage, and automobile parts making them durable, lightweight, stiff, and resilient.
- Nanostructured ceramic coatings are extending the life of moving parts in equipment spanning power tools through to industrial machinery. Meanwhile, nanotechnology-enabled lubricants and engine oils are also significantly reducing wear and tear on parts.
The Benefits And Applications of Nanotechnology In:
Electronics And IT Applications
Nanotechnology is advancing the electronics and computing sectors creating faster, smaller, and more portable systems. These systems are capable of managing and storing ever-expanding volumes of information through the following mechanisms:
- Nanotechnology is shrinking transistors. Smaller, faster and more efficient transistors may enable storage of your computer’s entire memory on a single chip.
- Ultra-high definition televisions and displays use quantum dots to produce more vibrant colours while being far more energy efficient.
- Magnetic random access memory (MRAM) computers will “boot” almost instantly. The nanometerscale magnetic tunnel junctions enable the MRAM. This can quickly and effectively save data during a system shutdown while enabling resume-play functionality.
- Integration of flexible, bendable, foldable, rollable, and stretchable electronics into a range of products, including the Internet of Things, wearable technology, medical, and aerospace applications.
- Graphene and cellulosic nanomaterials are being incorporated into flexible electronics enabling wearable and “tattoo” sensors. Photovoltaics can be sewn onto clothing and electronic paper that can be rolled up powering countless smart products reliant on flat, flexible, lightweight, non-brittle, highly efficient electronics.
Medical And Healthcare Applications
Nanotechnology is accelerating innovation in the design of both medical tools and therapies. Nanomedicine’s ability to adopt the natural scale of biological phenomena is producing targeted disease prevention, diagnosis, and treatments:
- Improved nanotechnology-enabled diagnostic and imaging tools are enabling earlier diagnosis, more customised treatment options, and higher therapeutic success rates.
- Nanotechnology researchers created a nanoparticle mimicking the body’s “good” cholesterol, HDL (high-density lipoprotein). Consequently, this helps reduce the buildup of plaque or to shrink plaque atherosclerosis in arteries.
- Commercial applications have adapted gold nanoparticles as probes to detect targeted sequences of nucleic acids. Additionally, exploring gold nanoparticles clinically for potential treatments of cancer and other diseases.
- 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.
- Research in the use of nanotechnology for regenerative medicine spans bone and neural tissue engineering. Engineering new materials to mimic the crystal mineral structure of human bone or as a restorative resin for dental treatments. Researchers are also studying graphene nanoribbons to help repair spinal cord injuries by growing neurons on the conductive graphene surface.
Nanotechnology is greatly enhancing both traditional and alternative energy strategies to help meet the world’s increasing demands for affordable energy:
- Enhanced catalysis powered by nanotechnology is improving the efficiency of producing fuel from raw petroleum. It is also enabling higher-efficiency combustion and decreased friction reducing the fuel consumption of vehicles and power plants.
- Nanotechnology-enabled gas lift valves located on offshore oil platforms and using nanoparticles to detect microscopic down-well oil pipeline fractures is streamlining oil and gas extraction.
- Carbon nanotube “scrubbers” and membranes are separating carbon dioxide from power plant exhaust.
- Wires containing carbon nanotubes have much lower resistance than the electrical grid’s current high-tension wires reducing transmission power loss.
- The use of an epoxy containing carbon nanotubes to manufacture stronger, longer, and lighter-weight windmill blades increasing the electricity windmills can generate.
Aside from improving the “slipperiness” of aerospace and automotive paintwork, nanotechnology promises to develop multifunctional materials. These materials will enable construction of smarter, lighter, safer and more efficient cars, aircraft, ships, trains, and spacecraft. Additionally, it will also enhance the efficiency of our aging transport infrastructure:
- Nanotechnology-enabled lightweight, high-strength materials are potentially “game-changing”. Reducing a commercial jet aircraft’s weight by 20 percent could reduce its fuel consumption by up to 15 percent. Using advanced nanomaterials with twice the strength of conventional composites would reduce the gross weight of a NASA launch vehicle by up to 63 percent, saving a significant amount of energy for orbital launch increasing mission reliability and reducing launch costs.
- Polymer nanocomposites automotive structural parts, such as high-power rechargeable batteries, thermoelectric materials for temperature control, tires with lower rolling-resistance, high-efficiency/low-cost sensors and electronics, thin-film smart solar panels, fuel additives, and improved catalytic converters will change the face of the automotive industry.
- Nano-engineered aluminium, steel, asphalt, concrete, and other materials and their recycled forms promise improved performance, greater resiliency, and longevity of highway and transportation infrastructure while reducing their life cycle cost.
Environmental Remediation Applications
One of the most important benefits and applications of nanotechnology are the many ways it can help detect and clean up environmental contaminants:
- Helping meet the need for affordable, clean drinking water through rapid, low-cost detection and treatment of impurities in our water supplies.
- Engineers have developed a thin film molybdenum disulphide (MoS2) membrane with nanopores filtering two to five times more water than conventional filters.
- Nanoparticles are being developed to clean industrial water pollutants in groundwater through chemical reactions that render the pollutants harmless.
- Researchers developed a nanofabric “paper towel” woven from tiny wires of potassium manganese oxide. This is capable of absorbing 20 times its weight in oil for cleanup operations. Researchers also positioned magnetic water-repellent nanoparticles in oil spills mechanically to remove the oil from the water.
- Nanotechnology-enabled sensors and solutions can detect chemical or biological agents in the air and soil with much higher sensitivity than ever before.
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The application of nanotechnology in a host of diverse industry sectors is unlocking a whole new horizon of benefits and applications of nanotechnology. From energy, transport, to medicine and healthcare, these sectors are all realizing advances stimulated by nanotechnology to the benefit of society at large.