What is nanotechnology? - Why is nanotechnology Important? - How is nanotechnology used today?

Why is nanotechnology important?

Nanoengineered materials have already had a major impact on peoples' lives.

Business Impact

A wide range of products now incorporate engineered nanomaterials, ranging from lithium ion batteries to medicines. New products being developed such as solar cells, lighting, and displays as well as cars will incorporate a higher percentage of nanoengineered materials. Even traditional products such as steel and concrete are benefitting from the incorporation of nanoengineered materials. All major technological revolutions are underpinned by the discovery of new materials. Development of more efficient solar cells is being driven by new materials, as are developments in battery technology and other energy storage and transmission technologies.

Nanotechnology is also helping the green revolution. Chemical firms are transitioning from using oil as a feedstock to bio based feedstock. Improvements in energy efficiency, cogeneration, and fewer emissions all require improved catalysts and often materials that can withstand higher temperatures and have reduced cleaning requirements. These improvements come from new materials which often incorporate nanoengineering.

Medicine has also been making use of nanomaterials, both in the use of better and more biocompatible coatings for implanted devices as well as new biologic and polymer drugs. The advancements in rapid DNA and protein scanning have required nanoengineered biomaterials as well as electronics.

Nanotechnology has already impacted most markets including: automotive, electronics, packaging, aerospace, communications, medicine, food and personal care. Nanotechnology will become increasingly critical to numerous technologies in the future.

Three types of product innovations are driven by nanotechnology:
  1. incremental improvements in existing properties such as tensile strength and modulus,
  2. new properties added to existing materials such as conductivity with no loss of transparency to polymers, and
  3. new disruptive solutions to existing problems such as energy storage, water filtration, chip architecture, and corrosion.

Technical Reasons

New combinations of mechanical, electrical, magnetic, optical, chemical and surface properties can be engineered at the nanoscale. We always knew that as particles get finer, there is more active surface area, solubility improves, rheology changes etc. But there are surprises when we cross from the micro to the nano scale.

Normally very predictable crystalline materials show surprising new properties at the nanoscale; gold becomes red in solution, and it can be a catalyst or a bio marker, while titanium dioxide, normally a very stable pigment, can also be used as an oxidative catalyst. Very thin sheets of silicon become flexible. Graphene has very different properties than graphite- it has very high tensile strength, conductivity and optical transparency. The list goes on, and the accumulating refinement of analytical tools and modeling enables exploration and control at the nanoscale.

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