Nanotechnology is a technology, science and engineering conducted at the nanoscale. The nanoscale ranges from 1 to 100 nanometers. Nanotechnology is the application and study of extremely minute things. It is applicable in many fields, ranging from biology, chemistry and engineering to material science. It is not another field of science; rather, it is a new dimension of looking at things and studying them. Richard Feynman is the physician behind the innovation of this new look at science. On December 29 1959, Feynman described a process that could help scientists to control and manipulate individual molecules and atoms. After a decade, Professor Norio Taniguchi, during his explorations of ultra precision machining, came up with the term ‘nanotechnology’. With the scanning tunneling microscope in 1981, the modern nanotechnology began. Nanotechnology provides scientists with the ability to control and see individual molecules and atoms. All things on earth consist of atoms. However, things which are as small as an atom can be highly impossible to see with the naked eye. In fact, one cannot see atoms with the use of microscopes used in high school classes. Nanoscale materials have existed for centuries. Currently, scientists are inventing new ways of creating materials at the nanoscale in order to take advantage of the enhanced features such as lightweight, better control of the light spectrum and high strength (nano.gov, 2012).
Uses of Nanotechnology
Nanotechnology and Water Purification
Nanotechnology consists of a range of tools, applications and techniques, which involve particles on the nanoscale. Particles of such size have distinct physiochemical and surface features that make them applicable to certain uses. Proponents of nanotechnology believe that the technology can be helpful in providing solutions to some of the global issues. For example, ensuring safe drinking water for the growing world population could be one of the uses of technology. Currently, there are nanotechnology approaches to water purification being investigated. Some are already in application. The use of nanotechnology in water purification makes use of nanoscopic materials, such as carbon nanotubes and alumina fibers, which help in the nanofiltration process. The technology also makes use of the availability of nanoscopic pores in zeolite filtration membranes. The pores also exist in magnetic nanoparticles and nanocatalysts. Technology uses nanosensors in the analytical detection of contaminants in the water samples. The impurities that the technology can detect are dependent on the stage of purification stage of application of the technique (ScienceDaily, 2010).
Nanotechnology and Solar Energy
Nanotechnology has several benefits to the production of solar energy. First, nanotechnology can help in designing and manufacturing the 2nd generation thin film PV cells. However, many believe that the technology will turn into their own 3rd generation of solar cell technologies with the existence of quantum dots, nanowires and radial junctions pushing PV efficiency. Secondly, the nanostructures can also enable the development of highly efficient solar cells at a cheaper cost than current costs of production. This is because of the availability of cheap inputs, such as titanium dioxide and silicon. The use of these cheap input materials will counter the potential, high costs of large-scale production of the nano-enhanced PV cells. The manufacturing costs will also reduce due to the low temperature process similar to printing contrary to the high temperature vacuum deposition process used in the production of conventional cells, which uses crystalline semiconductor material. The installation costs will also reduce by a substantial margin through the production of flexible rolls rather than crystalline panels (Souter, 2012).
Nanotechnology in Medicine
There is much talk about nanotechnology facilitating a revolution in the field of medicine by transforming drug delivery, diagnostics, gene therapy and other areas of medical research and clinical application. The power to manipulate and control properties and structures at the nanoscale level in medicine is similar to having a submicroscopic bench where one can handle viruses, cell components and pieces of DNA (Paddock, 2012).
Medical practitioners are increasingly investigating the possibility and usability of manipulation of genes or molecular paths that influence the expression of the genes. One key target in these investigations is the ability to manipulate treatments in line with the genetic makeup of patients. With the adoption of nanotechnology in medicine, it would be possible to handle a section of DNA, just as one holds a strand of spaghetti and conduct operations on the DNA (Paddock, 2012).
Chemists at the New York University have created a nanoscale robot using DNA fragments, which can walk on two legs for 10nm. According to Ned Seaman, it would be possible to develop a molecular scale production line where one can move a molecule along until it reaches the required location. Chemists are also creating DNA nanorobot that targets cancer cells. Researchers from the Harvard Medical School in the US reported recently that they developed a nanorobot out of DNA which could transport payload. The nanorobot carries molecules that have instructions, which make cells behave in a certain predetermined way (Paddock, 2012).
Nanotechnology in Electronics
The use of nanotechnology in semiconductors above the normal and feature size shrinkage have raised interest in the electronic industry. Some believe that the FinFETs found in the novel 3-D structures may be useful in the development of the next generation semiconductor devices. Nanotechnology acts as a tool kit for the electronics industry by supplying it with instruments that enable the construction of nanomaterials, which have distinct properties modified by ultrafine size of particles, structure and crystalline nature. This will have a commercially cost effective impact by providing producers with a competitive advantage over existing products in the industry. Many mainstream products are combining modern nanotechnology and traditional technology for manufacturing electronic products in areas such as surface finishes. Features of these products can be extremely significant to improving conventional products. This could be through reducing the consumption rate of energy, reduced process cost and time, and a high level of reliability (Rae, 2009).
Social and Ethical Issues of Nanotechnology
Any form of technological innovation does not lack a certain degree of criticism in terms of social and ethical effects of the innovation. Nanotechnology is no exception. Nanotechnology can enable cloning of machines and living creatures. Thus, we expect issues similar to those facing biological cloning efforts to arise in the early existence of the technology (Liebert, 2003).
Secondly, some authors believe that complex technologies such as nanotechnology have a high affinity to becoming totalitarian. This is because legislators and voters in a nation lack an understanding of technology. It is necessary to have sound and better procedures of debating technical advancements (Liebert, 2003).
Nanotechnology may dramatically increase the life expectancy of individuals through the innovation of diagnostic nanomachines, DNA repair and improved drugs. People may think that this is a positive outcome of the technology. However, a sudden rise in the life expectancy of a large population is likely to lead to the shortage of resources to support the entire population. This will require birth controls to cater for the high population of the aged (Liebert, 2003).
In addition, with the existence of nanotechnology, computers will think like human beings. According to analysts, the minute structure of nanomachines will enable them to crack the barrier into consciousness making them think like human beings. Such developments bring concerns of computers dominating and eliminating the human race (Liebert, 2003).
Nanotechnology has had a remarkable impact on almost all industries ranging from medicine, sanitation and energy to electronics. However, an analysis of past trends and speculations from scientists raises many ethical questions. Government bodies should come up with guides to regulate the adoption of technology in various industries in order to prevent the erosion of the human race.