Oxford Dictionaries describes Nanotechnology as “technology that is deals with dimensions and tolerances of less than 100 nanometers thick”, particularly the individual manipulation of atoms and molecules (Oxford Dictionaries, 2013). Truly, nanotechnology is such an incredible concept because we are talking about developing technology on the scale of 1 billionth of a meter or 1 nanometer in physical size. This broad description nanotechnology hardly gives ones an idea of the type of advancements that nanotechnology is capable of producing. If you can imagine that, the shape, color, hardness, conductivity and other properties that we admire about an item are dependent upon the underlying “ nature and structure of the constituent atoms and molecules” that the item is made from (IBM, 2013). Then you can imagine that, the ability to manipulate, replicate, add to or take away properties at the molecular level has limitless applications because it gives one the power to create new materials with new valuable properties from existing material.
Interestingly, upon reading about the history of developments in nanotechnology I was surprised to find that IBM has had a huge impact on the developments of nanotechnology, and could be considered a pioneer in the nanotechnology field (IBM, 2013, para. 1). IBM or maybe more accurately said, scientists at IBM were responsible for the invention of the scanning tunneling microscope (STM) or the first microscope capable of imaging an individual atom (IBM, 2013, para. 1). IBM also goes down in history as the first to manipulate atoms one-by-one, and the first who “incorporated sub-nanometer material layers into commercially mass-produced hard disk drive recording heads and magnetic disk coatings” (IBM, 2013. para. 1). Today, IBM is still leading the way in nanotechnology with their research on how to make “new atomic- and molecular-scale structures and devices for enhancing information technologies” (IBM, 2013, para 1). IBM has a particular interest in carbon nanotubes and scanning probes because of the show potential to improve the capability of circuits and data storage devices (IBM, 2013, para. 1).
Apparently, carbon nanotubes are of interest to many because they have useful applications and because carbon is found in abundance on the earth. Learning to utilize technology from renewable or abundant resources, such as carbon, is vital to the sustainability of humanity because many of our natural resources are rare or have a limited supply; additionally they regenerate at very slow rate. Researchers from Northwestern University are investigating the carbon nanotube for an altogether different reason than IBM. The research from Northwestern University pertains to how carbon nanotubes can be used to improve the quality of solar technology. Current solar technology is vastly limited to large bulky expensive solar cells because current solar technology utilizes a rare material called indium that rigid and inflexible (VerticalNews.com, 2011).
According to VerticalNews (2011), these researchers from Northwestern University have developed a new solar cell material that is made from a transparent carbon conductor (para. 1). In order for solar technology for work a solar cell must have a conductive transparent layer in which it can both absorb the light and release the energy created (VerticalNews.com, 2011, para. 4). This flexible carbon nanotube is an important discovery for solar technology because current technology relies upon a rare material called indium that is reportedly “mechanically brittle” which limits it applications and increases the cost of solar technology considerably (VerticalNews.com, 2011, para. 5). In the future, this same flexible nanotube technology could be used to make material that is capable of producing energy; making tents, clothes or backpacks with a built in energy supply possible (VerticalNews.com, 2011, para. 11).
As we have seen with carbon nanotubes being used in data storage and in solar cells, often one new development in nanotechnology can be used in many different applications. While attempting to find use of nanotechnology in the defense department scientists happened upon a process that shields a solid from contact with a liquid. A project funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) in 2006 shows promise for everyday application in the future for protection from chemical and biological agents, self-cleaning apparel, effortless thermal management, fuel purification as well as enhanced control of leaks-especially oil and fuels (NewsRx, 2013, para. 1). Amazingly, this new discovery was made by a doctoral student, Anish Tuteja, at MIT, while he was manipulating the peculiar “surface properties of a nanocomposite with fluorinated nanoparticles, to create a superoleophobic surface” (NewsRx, 2013, para. 2).
Apparently, to produce these amazing repellant properties a nanoscale coating material made from “cross-linked polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) and liquid-resisting nanoscale cubes that contain contain carbon, fluorine, silicon and oxygen’ was designed (NewsRx, 2013, para. 4). A process called electrospinning is used to apply the nanoscale coating to the surface, this process creates an electric charge that creates fine particles of a solid, from a liquid solution (NewsRx, 2013, para. 4). When applied to a solid the coating material fills any open pores within the structure to create a fine web of air pockets within those pores, this technique creates a nanobarrier that prevents liquids from making contact with the treated solid (NewsRx, 2013, para. 4). Using this “nanoscale coating” that is comprised of about “95 percent air” the prepared surface repels liquid spills made of materials within its class (NewsRx, 2013, para 5). Thus far, Anish Tuteja has demonstrated many surfaces which have the capability of repelling any liquid (NewsRx, 2013, para. 5). Interestingly, this new technology will resist coffee, soy sauce and vegetable oil, as well as hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid, gasoline and various alcohols too (NewsRx, 2013, para. 6).
Lastly, one place that nanotechnology has potentially revolutionary application is in the medical field. Recently, John Hopkins released information pertaining to nanotechnology and treatment for neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, Autism disorder, Multiple Sclerosis and other conditions that originate from neuroinflammation. Neuroinflammation occurs when the brain cells called microglia and astrocyte causes brain damage when they go into overdrive (Johns Hopkins University, 2012, para. 8). Microglia and astrocytes are normal cells that are designed to protect the brain during times of infection or inflammation (Johns Hopkins University, 2012, para. 8). However, when these cells work over time they cause brain inflammation which can result in neurologic damage and loss of motor function, like that seen in cerebral palsy. One of the problems with treating this inflammation in the brain is the biological and physiological systems that protect the brain from blood-borne infections prevent the medication from reaching the inflamed cells (Johns Hopkins University, 2012, para. 9).
Recent research at John Hopkins University has lead to the development of nanodevices that cross the blood barrier and will effectively deliver medication to the overactive inflamed cells located within the brain of rabbits affected with cerebral palsy (Johns Hopkins University, 2012, para. 1). The actual nanodevice is called a dendrimer, which is tree-like synthetic molecule that is 2,000 times smaller than a red blood cell (Johns Hopkins University, 2012, para. 10). The dendrimers tree like structure allows for it to be loaded with molecules of an anti-inflammatory drug called N-acetyl-L-cysteine (NAC), while its nanosize allows it to cross the blood barrier (Johns Hopkins University, 2012, para. 10). Remarkably not only did the nanodevices cross the barrier and precision target the inflamed cells within the brains of these rabbits with cerebral palsy, but the rabbits whom were given the dendrimer loaded with N-acetyl-L-cysteine later showed marked improvements within five days after birth, over those who were just given the N-acetyl-L-cysteine alone (Johns Hopkins University, 2012, para. 12). While they warn that this application of nanotechnology is a long way away from complete and ready to use in human trials, they also say that the “simplicity and versatility” of this drug delivery technology makes it ideal for clinical applications (Johns Hopkins University, 2012, para 5).
As we have seen, research in nanotechnology often leads to technological advancements in medical, energy, industrial, defensive, and even everyday applications. The versatile applications involved with nanotechnology make it an interesting subject for many fields of research to investigate. IBM, Northwestern University, MIT, the Air Force and John Hopkins Hospital represent only a few of the many companies, industries and fields that are investigating the future applications of nanotechnology today. While many of these technological applications are years away from mainstream everyday use the idea that they are even possible is quite exciting to say the least. From carbon nanotubes for data storage and solar cell conductivity, repellants for toxic chemicals and coffee, to nanodevices that cross the blood barrier, nanotechnology offers us a way to make new technology that improves upon materials we already have and create new materials by exploiting, manipulating and changing a substance at the molecular level. These advancements in nanotechnology and many others will offer us solutions in the near future to everyday problems, shortcomings and limitations to the application of current technologies and materials by changing the properties of our current technologies materials at the molecular level.
IBM. (2013). Nanotechnology & Nanoscience. IBM. Retrieved from
NewsRx. (2011). Nanotubes; Researchers use carbon nanotubes to make solar cells affordable, and flexible. NewRx. Retrieved fromhttp://search.proquest.com.libproxy.edmc.edu/docview/896273969?accountid=34899
NewsRx. (2013). Nanotechnology; A possible answer for protection against chemical/biological agents, fuel leaks, and coffee stains. NewRx. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.libproxy.edmc.edu/docview/1287015812/abstract?source=fedsrch&accountid=34899
Oxford Dictionaries. (2010). Nanotechnology. Oxford Dictionaries. Retrieved from http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/nanotechnology
The Johns Hopkins University. (2012). Nano-Devices that Cross Blood-Brain Barrier Open Door to Treatment of Cerebral Palsy, Other Neurologic Disorders. Johns Hopkins Children's Center. Retrieved from https://www.hopkinschildrens.org/Nano-Devices-that-Cross-Blood-Brain-Barrier-Open-Door-to-Treatment-of-Cerebral-Palsy.aspx