by Ruben Rekhi
If you’ve never really heard the word “nanotech” go around, are you really living in the 21st century? Nanotechnology is by far one of the most exciting and promising new technologies that can make an impact on every single industry. It just has so much potential!
And most people know this. But that is about all they know. So if you’re looking to find out about the basics of nanotech, where the technology is at today, future potential, and how we can implement it into the real world, you’ve come to the right place. If reading isn’t really your game, you can check out my video here.
What is Nanotechnology?
Nanotech is the study and manipulation of particles on the nanoscale. The nanoscale is, well, particles that are 1–100 nanometers (nm). Doesn’t sound too crazy, right? What if I tell you that a nanometer is a BILLIONTH of a meter? And that a human hair is about 60,000–100,000 nm in WIDTH?!
If it is on such a small scale, how do we manage to study and manipulate these particles?
Nanofabrication is the process used to make structures and manipulate particles at the nanoscale. It has 2 approaches: top-down fabrication, which is etching away unwanted material while the rest is protected with a coating (like sculpting a sculpture), and bottom-up fabrication, which is building the structures up molecule by molecule (like putting together lego blocks).
Properties of the nanomaterials (chemical and mechanical) can be measured using nanosensors, which are sensors that either have a dimension in the nanoscale (1–100 nm) or are optimized to detect properties of nanomaterials.
If you want to learn more about nanofabrication and nanosensors you can check out my article here.
What’s the point of nanotechnology? Why should we spend time and resources in making/studying the same materials that we have today just because they’re small?
When things are at the nanoscale, they change. One example is copper. You probably already know that copper is used for making wires because of how malleable and ductile it is. However, copper particles less than 50nm are extremely hard and cannot be bent nearly as easily.
These nanoparticles have amazing qualities and light weights, and their small size allows them to have a variety of uses that regular technology doesn’t. What are the implications of nanotech?
How Can We Use Nanotech?
Nanotech has a variety of implications in many fields and technologies just because of the fact that it is so small. Nanomaterials can be incorporated into almost anything, and they can be used to add properties to those materials that previously didn’t exist.
For example, carbon nanotubes can be used as an alternative to silicon for computer chips, creating faster, more energy-efficient, and longer-lasting computers. This can also potentially allow Moore’s Law to continue, as we may have reached the limit of how small transistors in a computer can get.
Another example is drug delivery. A new method of delivering cancer drugs inside the body uses nanomaterials that carry drugs such as DOX in a shell-like structure that can identify cancer cells and release the drugs inside them, preventing side-effects caused by releasing the drug in the body, killing other healthy cells. Check out this video to learn more about drug delivery.
The Four Stages of Nanotechnology
Nanotech is obviously a new technology. Well, not really – it’s been around for some time as a little something we call chemistry. But only now is it starting to grow and turn from a science into an applicable technology.
There are 4 stages of nanotech advancement: passive nanostructures, active nanostructures, systems of nanosystems, and molecular nanosystems.
1. Passive Nanostructures
This is the first stage of nanotech and the stage that we are currently in. It is the creation of materials at the nanoscale but the actual product doesn’t … do anything. It’s just a nanomaterial that sits there, hence the name passive nanostructures.
However, these nanomaterials can have amazing and really useful properties, and thanks to their small size, they can be incorporated into a variety of things like fabrics, metals, and almost any physical product. This can be used to enhance the materials and make the product better.
2. Active Nanostructures
This is the phase that we are now starting to move into. In this phase, nanoparticles are active, in the sense that they actually do something. Doing can be defined as making some sort of change to other materials or nanomaterials; they are interacting with other nanostructures and the real world.
An example of this is nanomedicines. There are medicines that are at the nanoscale or use nanomaterials for processes like drug delivery. If you want to learn more about nanomedicines, check out this link.
3. Systems of Nanostructures
This is the phase we are yet to reach, the phase where everything changes – the next tech revolution.
When you bring up the term nanotech, this is what most people think of. It’s the age of the nanobot and complex nanomachines. In this stage, we can expect to see multiple nanomachines and nano factories working together and actually making stuff. It may be the thing that helps us move to the next era of humanity.
It is that significant because at this point, we can have anything and everything made just through these clouds of nanomachines. Any material, any machine, built molecule by molecule in minutes. This would disrupt the entirety of every industry and could have just so many applications.
However, it is not perfect.
4. Molecular Nanosystems
Not too far off from the previous phase, this is just the last part where we will have achieved the perfection of nanotech. Essentially, the only difference is that while in the previous stage our nanomachines were made from different components, in the last stage we have complete control over every single atom and molecule that make up these components, basically fine-tuning the technology to perfection.
When will we reach these stages? It is hard to tell. But we need a start, and that start is here. The world will never be the same.
- Nanotechnology is the study and manipulation of particles at the nanoscale (1–100nm)
- The nanoscale is extremely small (1 m = 1,000,000,000 nm)
- Properties and behaviours of real-world materials change at the nanoscale
- Nanotech may be small, but it has a lot of big implications like faster computers and drug delivery
- There are 4 stages of nanotech: Passive Nanostructures (the one we are currently in), Active Nanostructures (the one we are moving into), Systems of Nanosystems (we are yet to reach this stage), and Molecular Nanosystems (perfection of nanotech)
If you have any questions or want to reach out, you can check out my LinkedIn.