Introduction to nanotechnology


Humans in many ways are hypnotized by technology. The phrase "Nanotechnology" is a technological concept in its infancy. It's being in the news with increasing regularity. Nanotechnology seems to have been around for so long precisely over fifty years ago when it was first identified but it is still an emerging technology with so many unresolved puzzles!

Behind the buzz and hype, however, lie so great potentials. Nanotechnology can address most if not all issues of the 21st century. It seems to hold so much promise for innovation. Hailed as the "Foundation of the next industrial revolution", [1] this emerging technology has great impact and pronounced effect on our lives.

It has the capability to revolutionalize the way we use our basic resources, improve production methods and even bring about an entirely new ways of generating products and services.

Time and time again ,powerful new technologies such as nanotechnology, as was the case with previous technologies that came before will undoubtedly impose real risks in at least some contexts or applications.

Keywords: Nanomaterials, Nanotechnology, Nanoscales

History of Nanotechnology

The emerging nanotechnology was born, in many ways. The history of Nanotechnology will not be complete without a mention of Richard Feynman. During his public presentation in 1959 "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom" [2] before the American Physical Society, Feynman (1960) discussed "Manipulating and Controlling Things on a Small Scale. He described with enthusiasm the endless possibilities that will open up if scientists could learn how to control single atoms and molecules, and improve the performance of the instrument such as electron microscopes. He was the first to identify the concept of Nanotechnology. He envisaged with deep insights that people at different times and in different ways can manipulate "the very atoms, all the way down "(Feynman) [2]. It was not until the mid-1980s that instruments were invented that provided the capabilities Feynman saw as a visionary.

Since then, nanotechnology has grown with groundbreaking testimonies and is fast developing at an incredible pace as we will see in the next couple of years.


"Nano" is a prefix that comes from the Greek word for dwarf. It simply means one billionth. So, one nanometer (1nm) is a billionth of a meter. Nano is represented mathematically. Ten to the negative 9th equals one billionth or 1/ 1, 000, 000, 000, which is so very little a number.

There's no generally approved or internationally accepted definition for nanotechnology, but they are commonly defined in its broadest sense not to confine to one industry or market .Rather, it is multidisciplinary ..., it transcends the conventional boundaries that cross all industry sectors and scientific disciplines.

In my opinion, this implies that it can be hard to define. It is arguable that to get a full grasp of this emerging technology and better explain it to a layman, it becomes imperative to describe some of the terms associated with this concept.

The Royal Society and The Royal Academy of Engineering (2004) offer these definitions:

Nanometer (nm): One thousand millionth of a meter .For example, a single human hair is 7,000 nm wide; and water molecule is approximately 0.3nm wide.

Nanoscale: The size range from 100nm down to 0.2nm.

Nanoscience: The study of phenomena and manipulation of materials at the atomic, molecular and macromolecular scale, where properties of materials can be quite different from those of larger scale.

According to The Royal Society and The Royal Academy of Engineering (2004) "Nanotechnology is the design, characterization, production and application of structures, devices and system by controlling shape and size at the nanometer scale".

Also according to the National Nanotechnology Initiative (2006), "Nanotechnology is the understanding and control of matter at dimensions of roughly 1 to 100 nanometers, where unique phenomena enable novel applications. Encompassing nanoscale science, engineering and technology, nanoscale science, engineering and technology, nanotechnology involves imaging, measuring, modeling, and manipulating matter at the length scale".

In describing this technology to a layman, nanotechnology research involves manipulating matters that are characterized by extremely small particles and macro molecules.

This paper discusses types and uses of nanomaterials, and it explores potential safety, health and environmental issues, as well as socio-economic implication of these materials.

Nanotechnology is not a product like a microchip or an automobile. It is a process that harnesses the unique properties of materials at the 1 - 100 nanometer scale to develop new products.

All natural materials and systems establish their foundation at the nanoscale.

By controlling matter at the molecular level, scientists and engineers can tailor the fundamental properties of materials precisely as desired. Also by carefully studying of material properties at the nano level, nanotechnology has the potential to affect the production of nearly all human - made objects. The implications of this emerging technology are far reaching.

According to Nanotechnology Institute of Northwestern University (2005), the field of nanotechnology focuses on three main areas.

  1. Identifying the chemical and physical changes that occurs at the nanoscale
  2. Developing new tools to measure, and new chemistry to make, highly miniaturized structure.
  3. Using the chemical and physical changes that occur at the nanoscale to develop new technologies.

Nanoparticles are part of nature, many can even be found in the air we take in At different times, people have asked if nanoparticles are harmful. ... There is actually no straight forward answer .According to the Northwestern University (2005), "it depends upon the chemical composition, just like with all other chemicals, some will have its healthy side and some will have toxic properties".

According to Northwestern University, Nanoparticles are currently being used in a number of consumer products. Very recently, clay nanoparticles have made their way into composite materials for cars and packaging materials, where they offer transparency and increased strength.

Sunscreens utilize nanoparticulate zinc oxide, and new anti - aging skin creams are being developed with nanoparticles.

Nanoparticles are also being used in antiseptics, as abrasive, in paints, in new coating for spectacles (making them scratchproof and unbreakable), for tiles, and in electrochronic or self - cleaning coating for windows.

Nanoparticles are the basis for new anti-graffiti coating for walls and improved ski waxes and ceramic coating for solar cells. Glues containing nanoparticles have the optical properties that give rise to uses in optoelectronics. Casing containing nanoparticles are being developed that shields against electromagnetic interface.

(Hood), Nanoparticles / nanomaterials are currently used in consumer products such as coating for bowling balls and stain - resistant clothing

The Royal Society and The Royal Academy of Engineering have explained in details the different types of nanomaterial. I will not want to bore you with their compositions because it is way beyond the scope of this paper but I will enumerate them.

  1. Biopolymers
  2. Buckyballs
  3. Carbon Nanotubes
  4. Dendrites
  5. Inorganic Nanotubes
  6. Nanoparticle
  7. Nanowires
  8. Quantundots

Impact of Nanotechnology on Economy

"Nanotechnology in recent times has continued to spark enthusiasm at the highest level of government and industry".

All over the world, there seems to be a massive investment in the research of nanotechnology with many countries establishing Nanotechnology research institute, centers and networks. These research initiatives and networks will study how evolving nanotechnology research is changing the scientific and engineering practices of research themselves.

Nanotechnology is thriving, a big contrast to the current day global economic outlook which seems to grim many sectors.

According to Guston, "There is more money being spent thus far on nanotechnology than with the human genome at a comparable stage".

Also according to Ragauskas, "Presently, investment for nanotechnology is estimated at $ 3 billion, of which about 25% is allotted to the United State".

Roco, "further establishes that the annual global impact of product where nanotechnology will play a key role will exceed $ 1 trillion by 2015". The large chunk in percentage is partly driven by a projected $ 1 trillion return on investment as the technology moves from the laboratory into practical application.

The pace of technological progress can and often does outstrip what markets need; this implies that it changes with respect to different markets over time.

The impact of this new technology is quite different, a fundamental change is currently taking place in the nature and application of technology in business, a change with profound and far -reaching implication for companies of every size and shape.

Not only are new companies immersing themselves in the development of nanoproducts .Some industry giants such as DuPont , General Motors , Hewlett - Packard to mention a few have join this bandwagon.

Nanotechnology promises great insights and innovations that could revolutionize a wide variety of industries and products, like manufacturing, energy and health care.

Impact of Nanotechnology on Society

There are many different opinions about where this new field will take us. According to Northwestern University, nanotechnology has the potential to profoundly impact our lives in a similar fashion as the implement of the moving assembly line by Henry Ford in 1908. Many are of the opinion, that nanotechnology will indeed have an impact of this magnitude on our society.

The development and application of any new technology such nanotechnology has both positive and negative societal effects.

The societal implications of nanotechnology are enormous, promising exponential advances in manufacturing, technology, medicine and military applications.

Against this backdrop, research conducted by Nanotechnology institutes and centers have provided an awareness that some nanoparticles enter cells and many damage tissues and that nanoparticles may pose severe health, safety and environmental hazards . There is therefore need to address these hazards when taking into cognizance that there are currently over 2 million workers in the United State (Parson 2004) and this figure is bound to grow globally.

Also new technologies, such as nanotechnology have great potentials to displace older ones, leading to a parallel shift in job opportunities; because new jobs potentially require different skills, such changes pose challenges for workforce training and the educational system.

Finally, in considering the societal impact of nanotechnology, researchers, government agencies and industry giants around the world need to prepare and take a proactive stance to ensure that environment; health and safety concerns are addressed so as not to become significant issues to the public.

Mnyusiwalla , et al (2003) call for the issues of equity ( as it relates to developing countries ) personal privacy, security ,environmental, medical ethics, access to benefits and metaphysical questions concerning human / machine interactions to be addressed.

However, even with the fact that, this technology was first identified over fifty years ago, most people have not heard of nanotechnology. The results of a public awareness poll published by The Royal Society recently, reported that only 29 percent of the public claims to have heard of nanotechnology, while only 19 percent were able to give some form of insight or definition of nanotechnology (The Royal Society)

There is great hope for nanotechnology; the future for this emerging technology appears to be very bright.

In Future Technologies, Today's Choice: Nanotechnology, Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, Arnall (2003) describes "Nanotechnology as an enabling technology with astronomical powers that will likely have broad and unanticipated impacts on society".


Nanotechnology is an emerging field with tremendous promise for producing new and innovative products that are safer, cheaper, stronger, smarter and cleaner.

Like a vast scientific frontier, nanotechnology holds promise to greatly improve the quality of life as we proceed in this century.

Any new or emerging technology faces hurdles in its development phase, implementation and public acceptance. Against this backdrop, Nanotechnology by all standards is no exceptions in this criticism.

There is no doubt that the world cannot afford to ignore nanotechnology.

I will suggest that more can be done or attention can be focused among the following issues:

Environmental, Health and Safety, Education and Workforce Preparation, and Ethical, Legal and other Societal Implication amongst others.

As Richard Feynman pointed out in his public lecture, "....a vision of the future where one could fabricate materials and devices at the atomic or molecular level," is here now.


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