Twenty years ago, nanotechnology was a promising field of pure research, which had yet to demonstrate any tangible return on those research dollars. Fast-forward two decades and now, within an industry context, nanotechnology is now a common part of our vernacular as the innovative ways nanotechnology is impacting daily life continues to expand.
Scientists are discovering atoms and molecules behave differently at the nanoscale level that understanding has yet to percolate through to the broader public. Many householders don’t yet realize the many ways nanotechnology is impacting daily life astonishingly.
Nanotechnology is defined as, “science, engineering, and technology conducted at the nanoscale, which is approximately 1 to 100 nanometers.” One nanometer is a billionth of a meter or 10-9 of a meter. For comparison, a sheet of newspaper is about 100,000 nanometers thick.
Ways Nanotechnology Is Impacting Daily Life
Amazingly, nanotechnology is maintaining its astonishing pace of development as it expands rapidly into ever more industrial sectors. Scientists and engineers are enjoying significant success creating materials at the nanoscale to take advantage of nanotechnology’s enhanced properties such as higher tensile strength, lighter weight, an escalation in electrical conductivity, and surging chemical reactivity compared to their corresponding larger-scale counterparts.
10 examples of the many ways nanotechnology is impacting daily life:
- Nanoparticles and their fabric equivalents nanofibres are improving water, stain, and flame resistance without incurring a significant penalty in weight, density, or stiffness of the fabric. Newly developed “nano-whiskers” on pants make them more resistant to water and stains.
- Increasingly, drinking bottles are being manufactured from plastics infused with nanoclays. These nanoclays increase the bottle’s resistance to being permeated by the surrounding air, carbon dioxide, and moisture. This assists in retaining carbonation integrity and internal pressure, which helps to extend the products’ shelf life by several months.
- Faster, smaller, and more powerful computers that consume significantly less power, combined with longer-lasting batteries. Circuits manufactured from carbon nanotubes are reigniting the surging growth in computer power, providing Moore’s Law with a newly reinvigorated impetus.
- Increased fuel efficiency amongst vehicles coupled with greater resistance to corrosion by forging vehicle parts using nanocomposite materials that are stronger, lighter, and more chemically resistant compared to conventional metals. Nanofilters are now able to remove almost all airborne particles from the inlet air prior to it reaching the engines combustion chamber, further extending fuel mileage.
- Faster, more accurate and more functional medical diagnostic equipment. Nanotechnology is driving the development of Lab-on-a-chip based technology enabling point-of-care testing in real time accelerating the delivery cycle of medical care. Nanomaterial surfaces on implants also improve wear properties and resist infection.
- Carbon nanotubes are demonstrating a range of commercial applications, including reducing the weight of sporting equipment while making it stronger. Tennis rackets manufactured using carbon nanotubes bend far less during impact with the ball than conventional materials, while increasing the force transferred into the stroke and enhancing the accuracy of the delivery. Nanoparticle-treated tennis balls have been found to keep bouncing twice as long as conventional tennis balls.
- Pharmaceutical products are incorporating nanoparticles to improve their rate of absorption within the body while engineering them to be easier to deliver, often using combination medical devices. Nanoparticles are also being co-opted to deliver chemotherapy drugs targeting specific cells, such as cancer cells.
- Water filters only 15-20 nanometers wide are demonstrating their astounding ability to remove nano-sized particles. These particles include essentially all viruses and bacteria. These cost-efficient, portable water treatment systems are proving ideal in emerging countries at improving the quality of drinking water.
- Most sunscreens these days are made from light-absorbing nanoparticles that operate effectively across the more dangerous ultraviolet range. These enhanced sunscreens also spread more easily over the skin and are absorbed faster. These very same nanoparticles are also being applied in food packaging as industry seeks to reduce its vulnerability to UV exposure thus prolonging its product’s shelf life.
- Thanks to the successful expansion of nanotechnology applications, an immense spectrum of chemical sensors are now programmable to detect an individual chemical at staggeringly minuscule levels, such as the ability to detect and identify a single molecule out of billions. This aptitude is ideal for surveillance and security systems contexts in airports, industrial sites, and laboratories. In the medical and wellness sector, nanosensors are being harnessed to accurately identify specific cells, molecules, or substances in the body.
Emerging Nanotechnology Stars
While thousands of applications for nanotechnology that impacts broad swathes of the society are being commercialized, new innovative concepts continue to emerge apace.
Researchers in the United States recently discovered a working prototype capable of drawing carbon dioxide from the surrounding atmosphere and converting that carbon dioxide into high-yield carbon nanofibers that can be used in manufacturing.
These nanofibers are employed in manufacturing strong carbon composites in the aerospace sector for manufacturing aircraft as well as in applications as diverse as wind turbine blades and high-end sporting equipment and a plethora of other products.
The pilot process involved in manufacturing these strong carbon composites is currently powered by a hybrid system. This system consists of solar cells and a thermal energy collector that draws very little energy. If this process was scaled up and effectively commercialised to envelop a physical footprint less than 10 percent of the size of the Sahara Desert, it would reduce carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere to pre-industrial levels within a decade.
When asked about nanotechnology’s greatest potential for improving the state of the world, Markus Antonietti, director of Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces at Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, responded it was the purification of air and water.
Researchers believe the technology already exists to repair the damage already done to the atmosphere. Achieving its implementation will require an increased focus on education and communicating that information to the broader public.
The majority of the public remains unaware of just how much progress is being made by these nanotechnology developments. The most promising aspect of this continued innovation in nanotechnology is that much of its applications could be implemented virtually immediately.
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Nanotechnology has made the long march from promise to benefit realization over the past twenty years. While nanotechnology is delivering on its extensive potential for improving the world few members of the public fully recognise the many ways nanotechnology is impacting daily life. As nanotechnology continues to evolve and new applications continue to emerge at a steady pace, this lack of visibility remains one of nanotechnology’s last frontiers.