What Is Nanotechnology?
It is a multidisciplinary field focused on the production and manipulation of materials and networks beyond the nominal laws of chemistry and physics.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), nanotechnology is defined as “the creation and use of structures, devices, and systems that have novel properties and functions because of their small size.”
History of Nanotechnology
Long before the dawn of the ‘nano-era,’ individuals of ancient times involved themselves in all forms of nano-practices without fully understanding its phenomenon. The cultivation and use of natural fabric products such as cotton and flax were known to possess unique properties, but their reasons stayed unknown until recent times.
Modern nanotechnology, born from the innate desire for development, was first established by Richard Feynman, a physicist. The 1965 Physics Nobel Prize laureate presented a lecture titled ‘There’s plenty of room at the bottom,’ and this introduced the concept of manipulating matter at the atomic level.
In 1974, Norio Taniguchi – a professor at Tokyo Science University – coined the term ‘Nanotechnology’ to describe semiconductor processes performed with accuracy on the nano-scale.
Basic Terms in Nanotechnology
As with most disciplines, to understand its concept, specific terms need to be defined. Listed below are some commonly used terminology in the field:
- Nanoscale: Otherwise known as the nanoscopic scale, it refers to structures with lengths applicable to nanotechnology, usually cited as 1-100 nanometers. It is relatively lower than the mesoscopic scale.
- Nanometer: This is a unit of length measurement within the metric scale proportionate to one-billionth of a meter. It is used in scaling proportions of microscopic objects such as atoms, molecules, and other infinitesimal objects.
- Nanotubes: They are hollow, cylindrical materials with diameters within the nano-scale. Their mileage within the field is astronomical due to a myriad of unique properties. Nanotubes are classified based on their constituting materials: carbon nanotubes, silicon carbide nanotubes, titanium oxide nanotubes, boron nitride nanotubes, and lipid nanotubes.
Carbon Nanotubes: Otherwise known as buckytubes, are nanoscaled pipes composed of carbon allotrope molecules (graphite molecules).
As a result of the strong intermolecular force of attraction amongst carbon molecules, these tubes possess the ability to produce ultra-high, low-weight materials with high electrical conductivity and excellent thermal properties: the reason for their maximized exploitation in the nanotechnology industry. Carbon nanotubes are generally classified into four categories on account of the number of walls they possess:
Nanocomposites: These are amplifiers of other nanomaterials added in minute quantities to improve general properties such as electrical conductivity and permeability. Nanocomposites are classified concerning their structure, engineering application, and component bases.
Molecular Nanotechnology/ Nanofabrication: A nanoscale-based reaction involving the use of related techniques designed to generate devices and structures under the principles of mechanically-guided chemical synthesis.
There are three distinct pathways to molecular nanotechnology, and they include:
- Supramolecular chemistry
- Proximate probe technology
Methods of Operation
In Nanotechnology, there are five common pathways utilized in the creation of materials. The selection of an approach to be employed is determined by the expected product or goal.
The following are the commonly utilized pathways: bottom-up, top-down, functional, speculative, and biomimetic methods. The first two techniques – bottom-up and top-down – are predominantly exploited in nano-manufacturing due to their resultant combining effect.
Top-down (Solid-state reaction):
This is a subtractive approach in which the parent substrate is degraded by carving out its crystal planes to obtain the desired nanostructure principally via heating at elevated temperatures.
Top-down approaches are vital in the development of structures with long-range orders and macroscopic connections.
Bottom-up (Liquid phase reaction):
In contrast to its counterpart, the bottom-up technique is an additive approach with a basis on the emulation of nature’s abilities to synthesize larger substances from atomic particles and molecules.
It is structured to integrate self-assembly and supramolecular chemistry in the fabrication of macromolecular structures from primary building blocks.
Techniques Used in Nanotechnology Tool Development
Each nano-tech tool operates on certain principles for enhanced functionality and efficiency. Knowing and understanding these techniques are thereby vital for the utilization of these tools. Some nano-technological methods include lithography, bonding, etching, electrically- induced nanopatterning, film deposition, molecular self-assembly, and rapid prototyping
For more information on these techniques, read Tools for Nanotechnology.
“In thinking about nanotechnology today, what’s most important is understanding where it leads, what nanotechnology
will look like after we reach the assembler breakthrough.”
-K. Eric Drexler
Applications of Nanotechnology
Due to the rising interest in the development of nanotechnology, the field is rapidly turning universal. It is presently of considerable significance to the enhancement of a variety of other sectors, as a result of its components which can be readily modified to suit a wide range of objectives. Its applicability can be seen in disciplines such as medicine, agriculture, electricity, cosmetics, environmental management, water supply, manufacturing, food industry, and construction.
Despite its numerous benefits, nanotechnology remains mostly underutilized. However, research and experiments are afoot to the discovery and exploitation of more of its benefits.
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