Nanotechnology is the study of matter at a miniature level called the nano scale. A nano meter is equal to one billionth of a meter. Nanotechnology facilitates research on particles less than one billionth of a meter in diameter, and thus paves way to some amazing inventions and discoveries. The properties of atoms and molecules are found to greatly differ on a nano scale, i.e., at 100 nm or below compared to what they are in bulk matter. Exploiting this feature of matter, nanotechnology manipulates single atoms to discover new properties and then uses these to create improved materials, devices and systems.
Today, from agriculture to aerospace research, nanotechnology’s impact is being felt. Research in nanotechnology spans across an array of fields such as health, environment, agriculture, food and beverages, product development, space technology, power generation, genetics, biotechnology, forensic science, electronics and communications.
Application of Nanotechnology
A. Nano Medicine
Nano medicine is the medical application of Nano technology. Nano medicine ranges from medical application of Nano materials and biological devices to nano electronic bio sensors and future biological machines.
Advantage of nano in biological application: The size of nano materials is similar to that of most biological molecules and structures; therefore, nano-materials can be useful for both in vivo(inside the body) and in vitro(outside body) biomedical research and applications. Thus far, the integration of nano materials with biology has led to the development of diagnostic devices, contrast agents, analytical tools, physical therapy applications, and drug delivery vehicles.
1. Drug Delivery: Nanotechnology has provided the possibility of delivering drugs to specific cells using nanoparticles (increases effectiveness, less side effects)
2. Tissue Engineering: Tissue engineering is the new emerging field of science which makes use of nanotechnology to repair the damaged tissues. The cells can be artificially reproduced by using suitable nanomaterials scaffolds and other growth factors.
3. Diagnostic: The use of nanomaterials to diagnose different diseases is the most important achievement of medical field. Nanoparticles are attached to the antibody or they can be attached to the molecules to label or to see the structures of proteins in any organism.
4. Sensing: Lab-on-chip technology, where magnetic nano particles bound to a suitable antibody, are used to label specific molecules, structures or microorganisms. Gold nanoparticles tagged with short segments of DNA can be used for detection of genetic sequence in a sample.
Nanotechnology offers some exciting potential benefits for the quality and safety of our foods.
• Contamination Sensor: Flash a light to reveal the presence of E. coli bacteria.
• Antimicrobial Packaging: Edible food films made with cinnamon or oregano oil, or nano particles of zinc, calcium other materials that kill bacteria.
• Improved Food Storage: Nano-enhanced barrier keeps oxygen-sensitive foods fresher.
• Enhanced Nutrient Delivery: Nano-encapsulating improves solubility of vitamins, antioxidants, healthy omega oils and other ‘nutraceuticals’.
• Green Packaging: Nano-fibers made from lobster shells or organic corn are both antimicrobial and biodegradable.
• Pesticide Reduction: A cloth saturated with nano fibers slowly releases pesticides, eliminating need for additional spraying and reducing chemical leakage into the water supply.
• Tracking, Tracing; Brand Protection: Nanobarcodes can be created to tag individual products and trace outbreaks.
• Texture: Food spreadability and stability improve with nano-sized crystals and lipids for better low-fat foods.
• Flavor: Trick the tongue with bitter blockers or sweet and salty enhancers.
• Bacteria Identification and Elimination: Nano carbohydrate particles bind with bacteria so they can be detected and eliminated.
C. SEMICONDUCTORS AND COMPUTING
• The computer industry is already working on a nanoscale.
• Trend is emerging of the convergence between IT, nanotechnology, biotechnology and cognitive sciences.
Nanotechnology improve the capabilities of electronic components as given below-
• By reducing the size of transistors used in integrated circuits.
• Researchers are developing a type of memory chip with a projected density of one terabyte of memory per square inch and this increases the density of memory chips.
• By improving display screens on electronics devices and this reduces power consumption and also the weight and thickness of the screens.
• By traditional scaling limits in standard CMOS technology. This development of nano electronic components are called as ‘Beyond CMOS’ domain of development.
• The devices using Nano electronics technology also includes solar cells that are highly efficient and cheaper than the conventional ones. If such efficient solar energy can be created it would be a revolution to the global energy needs.
• Using the technology, researchers are developing a generator for energy production in vivo called bio-nano generators. Basically, the generator is an electrochemical device which is designed in nanoscale size. It works like a fuel cell which generates the power by absorbing the blood glucose in a living body. The glucose will be separated from the body with the help of an enzyme. This enzyme separates the glucose from the electrons and makes them useful for generating power.
• Single electron transistors, nano electromechanical systems, ultra dense parallel line of nano wires
The textile industry could be affected quite significantly by nanotechnology, with some estimates talking of a market impact of hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade. Nanoscience has already produced stain- and wrinkle-resistant clothing, and future developments will focus on upgrading existing functions and performances of textile materials; and developing “smart” textiles with unprecedented functions.
a. Carbon Nanofibers and Carbon Nanoparticles
b. Clay Nanoparticles
E. SUSTAINABLE ENERGY
• Prototype solar panels incorporating nanotechnology are more efficient than standard designs in converting sunlight to electricity, promising inexpensive solar power in the future. Nanostructured solar cells already are cheaper to manufacture and easier to install, since they can use print-like manufacturing processes and can be made in flexible rolls rather than discrete panels. Newer research suggests that future solar converters might even be “paintable.”
• Nanotechnology is improving the efficiency of fuel production from normal and low-grade raw petroleum materials through better catalysis, as well as fuel consumption efficiency in vehicles and power plants through higher-efficiency combustion and decreased friction.
• Nano-bioengineering of enzymes is aiming to enable conversion of cellulose into ethanol for fuel, from wood chips, corn stalks (not just the kernels, as today), unfertilized perennial grasses, etc.
• Nanotechnology is already being used in numerous new kinds of batteries that are less flammable, quicker-charging, more efficient, lighter weight, and that have a higher power density and hold electrical charge longer. One new lithium-ion battery type uses a common, nontoxic virus in an environmentally benign production process.
• Nanostructured materials are being pursued to greatly improve hydrogen membrane and storage materials and the catalysts needed to realize fuel cells for alternative transportation technologies at reduced cost. Researchers are also working to develop a safe, lightweight hydrogen fuel tank.
• Energy efficiency products are increasing in number and kinds of application. In addition to those noted above, they include more efficient lighting systems for vastly reduced energy consumption for illumination; lighter and stronger vehicle chassis materials for the transportation sector; lower energy consumption in advanced electronics; low-friction nano-engineered lubricants for all kinds of higher-efficiency machine gears, pumps, and fans; light-responsive smart coatings for glass to complement alternative heating/cooling schemes; and high-light-intensity, fast-recharging lanterns for emergency crews.
• Besides lighter cars and machinery that requires less fuel, and alternative fuel and energy sources, there are many eco-friendly applications for nanotechnology, such as materials that provide clean water from polluted water sources in both large-scale and portable applications, and ones that detect and clean up environmental contaminants.
• Nanotechnology could help meet the need for affordable, clean drinking water through rapid, low-cost detection of impurities in and filtration and purification of water.
• Nanoparticles can be used to clean industrial water pollutants in ground water through chemical reactions that render them harmless, at much lower cost than methods that require pumping the water out of the ground for treatment.
• Researchers have developed a nanofabric “paper towel,” woven from tiny wires of potassium manganese oxide, that can absorb 20 times its weight in oil for cleanup applications.
• Many Airplane cabin and other types of air filters are nanotechnology-based filters that allow “mechanical filtration,” in which the fiber material creates nanoscale pores that trap particles larger than the size of the pores. They also may contain charcoal layers that remove odors.
• New nanotechnology-enabled sensors and solutions can be able to detect, identify, and filter out, and/or neutralize harmful chemical or biological agents in the air and soil with much higher sensitivity than is possible today.
• In addition to contributing to building and maintaining lighter, smarter, more efficient, and “greener” vehicles, aircraft, and ships, nanotechnology offers various means to improve the transportation infrastructure:
• Nano-engineering of steel, concrete, asphalt, and other cementitious materials, and their recycled forms, offers great promise in terms of improving the performance, resiliency, and longevity of highway and transportation infrastructure components while reducing their cost. New systems may incorporate innovative capabilities into traditional infrastructure materials, such as the ability to generate or transmit energy.
• Nanoscale sensors and devices may provide cost-effective continuous structural monitoring of the condition and performance of bridges, tunnels, rails, parking structures, and pavements over time. Nanoscale sensors and devices may also support an enhanced transportation infrastructure that can communicate with vehicle-based systems to help drivers maintain lane position, avoid collisions, adjust travel routes to circumnavigate congestion, and other such activities.
• Employing materials made from carbon nanotubes to reduce the weight of spaceships like the one shown below while retaining or even increasing the structural strength.
• Using carbon nanotubes to make the cable needed for the space elevator, a system which could significantly reduce the cost of sending material into orbit.
• Including layers of bio-nano robots in spacesuits.
• Producing thrusters for spacecraft that use MEMS devices to accelerate nanoparticles.
• Using carbon nanotubes to build lightweight solar sails that use the pressure of light from the sun reflecting on the mirror-like solar cell to propel a spacecraft. This solves the problem of having to lift enough fuel into orbit to power spacecraft during interplanetary missions.
• Working with nanosensors to monitor the levels of trace chemicals in spacecraft to monitor the performance of life support systems.
Nanotechnology for Crop Biotechnology
• Nanoparticles can serve as ‘magic bullets’, containing herbicides, chemicals, or genes, which target particular plant parts to release their content. Nanocapsules can enable effective penetration of herbicides through cuticles and tissues, allowing slow and constant release of the active substances.
Nanotech Delivery Systems for Pests, Nutrients, and Plant Hormones
• Nano-sensors and nano-based smart delivery systems could help in the efficient use of agricultural natural resources like water, nutrients and chemicals through precision farming. Through the use of nanomaterials and global positioning systems with satellite imaging of fields, farm managers could remotely detect crop pests or evidence of stress such as drought. Once pest or drought is detected, there would be automatic adjustment of pesticide applications or irrigation levels.
• Nano-sensors dispersed in the field can also detect the presence of plant viruses and the level of soil nutrients. Nano-encapsulated slow release fertilizers have also become a trend to save fertilizer consumption and to minimize environmental pollution.
• Nano-barcodes and nano-processing could also be used to monitor the quality of agricultural produce. Scientists at Cornell University used the concept of grocery barcodes for cheap, efficient, rapid and easy decoding and detection of diseases.
• They produced microscopic probes or nano-barcodes that could tag multiple pathogens in a farm which can easily be detected using any fluorescent-based equipment. This on-going project generally aims to develop a portable on-site detector which can be used by non-trained individuals.
• Through nanotechnology, scientists are able to study plant’s regulation of hormones such as auxin, which is responsible for root growth and seedling establishment.
NANO MISSION OF INDIA
The Nano Mission is an umbrella programme for capacity building which envisages the overall development of this field of research in the country and to tap some of its applied potential for nation’s development. In brief, the objectives of the Nano-Mission are:
Basic Research Promotion – Funding of basic research by individual scientists and/or groups of scientists and creation of centers of excellence for pursuing studies leading to fundamental understanding of matter that enables control and manipulation at the nanoscale.
Infrastructure Development for Nano Science & Technology Research – Investigations on the nano scale require expensive equipments like Optical Tweezers, Nano Indenter, Transmission Electron Microscope (TEM), Atomic Force Microscope (AFM), Scanning Tunneling Microscope (STM), Matrix Assisted Laser Desorption Time of Flight Mass Spectrometer (MALDI TOF MS), Microarray Spotter & Scanner etc. For optimal use of expensive and sophisticated facilities, it is proposed to establish a chain of shared facilities across the country.
Nano Applications and Technology Development Programmes- To catalyze Applications and Technology Development Programmes leading to products and devices, the Mission proposes to promote application-oriented R&D Projects, establish Nano Applications and Technology Development Centers, Nano-Technology Business Incubators etc. Special effort will be made to involve the industrial sector into nanotechnology R&D directly or through Public Private Partnership (PPP) ventures.
Human Resource Development – The Mission shall focus on providing effective education and training to researchers and professionals in diversified fields so that a genuine interdisciplinary culture for nanoscale science, engineering and technology can emerge. It is planned to launch M.Sc./M.Tech. Programmes create national and overseas post-doctoral fellowships, chairs in universities, etc.
International Collaborations – Apart from exploratory visits of scientists, organization of joint workshops and conferences and joint research projects, it is also planned to facilitate access to sophisticated research facilities abroad, establish joint centers of excellence and forge academia-industry partnerships at the international level wherever required and desirable.
The Nanotechnology Initiative Programme of Department of Information Technology was started in 2004 with focus on nano-electronics. The programme has been concentrating on institutional capacity building and infrastructure for Research & Development and human resource development in the area of nano-electronics towards making India a front runner in this revolutionary area. Under this programmes following initiatives has been taken:
Centres of Excellence in Nanoelectronics
Two nanoelectronics centres have been established at IIT Bombay and IISc, Bangalore. These centres have become Centres of Excellence in Nanoelectronics and are attracting International and National attention. The Centres at IIT Bombay and IISc are concentrating on development of nano-systems for healthcare and environmental monitoring, development of organic and biopolymer devices, GaN devices, acoustic sensors, magnetic materials for LC resonators, ferroelectrics for FRAMs and phase shifters etc.
Non-silicon based nano fabrication and nanoscales devices
A large project has been initiated recently at IIT Delhi for creating a centre of nanoelectronics to primarily work on non-silicon based nano technology. This will concentrate largely on Nanomagnetics, Nanophotonics, Nanophotovoltaics, Nanoelectronics, Nanomechanics, Biosensors and Mesoscale Devices.
In the area of nano technology, the challenges include measurement of nano dimensions, nano electrical properties et al. To meet this requirement, calibration facilities for the electrical parameters namely nanovolt, nano-scale current, nano-scale resistance and nano-scale charge have been developed and established at National Physical Laboratory to serve as a national facility.
Facility for the growth and characterization of Single Wall Carbon Nanotubes
The facility for the growth and characterization of Single Wall Carbon Nanotubes is being created at Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi.
Nano Science and Technology Initiative (NSTI)
Launched by the DST, in 2001, focused on various issues relating to infrastructure development, basic research and application oriented programmes in nanomaterial including drugs/drug delivery/gene targeting and DNA chips. It gave way to Nano Mission in 2007.
The Nano Science and Technology Mission (NSTM)
An Umbrella programme was launched in the year 2007 to promote R&D in this emerging area of research in a comprehensive fashion.
The main objectives of the Nano Mission are: basic research promotion, infrastructure development for carrying out front ranking research, development of nano technologies and their applications, human resource development and international collaborations.
INDIA’S INTERNATIONAL COLLABORATIONS
Several bilateral collaborations emerged in nano science and technology, as it was a part of nearly all the Science & Technology agreements between India and other countries.
• Initiatives for joint R&D have figured prominently with Indian institutes engaging in projects of similar kind in the US, EU, Japan, Taiwan and Russia.
• The S&T departments of Brazil, South Africa and India have embarked on a tri-lateral initiative to developed collaborative programmes in several common areas of interest, and nanotechnology being one of them.
• Other initiatives include Science and Technology Initiatives with Indian Diaspora – Scientists and Technologists of Indian Origin Abroad (STIOs) for encouraging networking between Indian scientists and scientists and technologists of Indian origin that are based abroad.
• The International Science and Technology Directorate (ISAD) of the (CSIR) Council of Science and Industrial Research that aims to strengthen cooperation between CSIR and international institutions has facilitated workshops and collaborative projects with international partners like South Africa, France, South Korea, China, Japan in the area of nanoscience and technology.
• Another forum for international collaboration is the Euro-India Net set up under the FP6 between EU and India to encourage collaborations between scientists from the 2 regions in the area of nanotechnology. A memorandum of understanding also has been signed between India and UNESCO to establish a Regional Centre for Education and Training in Biotechnology, where one of the focus areas is on nano-biotechnology.