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Abstract

INNER EYE OF NANOSCIENCE FOCUSSES THE OUTREACH OF MILESTONE

*Dr. Sampa Dhabal, Dr. Dhrubo Jyoti Sen and Dr. Dhananjoy Saha

ABSTRACT

The term ‘nanomaterials’ has a particular meaning. ‘Nanomaterials’ are materials at the nanoscale whose properties (such as conductivity, colour and mechanical hardness) change due to their nanoscale dimensions. ‘Nanomaterials’ encompass all nanoscale materials or materials that contain at least one nanoscale structure, either on their surfaces or internally. They can be inorganic, organic or biological. Nanomaterials such as nanoplates, nanoparticles, nanowires and nanotubes can be engineered in labs. Nanomaterials can also occur in nature—naturally occurring nanoparticles include smoke, sea spray and volcanic ash, as well as minerals, soils, salt particles and biogenic particles. Nanoparticles, nanowires, nanotubes and nanoplates are all types of nanomaterials, distinguished by their individual shapes and dimensions. What these materials have in common is that they have one or more dimension at the nanoscale.  Nanoparticles have all three dimensions within the nanoscale.  Nanowires/tubes have diameters in the nanoscale, but can be several hundred nanometres long—or even longer.  Nanoplates’ thickness is at the nanoscale, but their other two dimensions can be quite large. An example of a nanoplate is graphene, a sheet of carbon one atom thick. Decades of research and development in nanoscience and nanotechnology have delivered both expected and unexpected benefits for our society. Nanotechnology is helping to improve products across a range of areas, including food safety, medicine and health care, energy, transportation, communications, environmental protection and manufacturing. It is being used in the automotive, electronics and computing industries, and in household products, textiles, cosmetics—the list goes on. Already there are over 800 products on the market that are enhanced with nanotechnology. The ability to tailor the core structures of materials at the nanoscale to achieve specific properties is at the heart of nanotechnology. A few examples of current nanotechnology include the following. FOOD SECURITY: Nanosensors in packaging can detect salmonella and other contaminants in food. MEDICINE: Some of the most exciting breakthroughs in nanotechnology are occurring in the medical field, allowing medicine to become more personalised, cheaper, safer and easier to deliver. The potential for nanotechnology to improve drug-delivery systems for a range of diseases including cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other age-related illnesses is an area of intense research for scientists. For example, a 2014 breakthrough saw the development of nano cages, which can theoretically deliver cancer-killing drugs directly at the molecular level. This drug delivery method would reduce the dosage amount needed, target cancer cells rather than healthy cells, and reduce side effects. The technology is still being tested and undergoing approvals, but may see some real-world applications as early as 2016. Other exciting developments include the possibility of using nanotechnology to increase the growth of nerve cells (for example in a damaged brain or spinal cord), and using nanofibres to help regenerate damaged spinal nerves (currently being tested on mice). ENERGY: Nanotechnology is being used in a range of energy areas—to improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of solar panels, create new kinds of batteries, improve the efficiency of fuel production using better catalysis, and create better lighting systems. AUTOMOTIVE: Nanoengineered materials are in a range of products including high-power rechargeable batteries, fuel additives, fuel cells and improved catalytic converters, which produce cleaner exhaust for longer periods. ENVIRONMENT: Researchers are developing nanostructured filters that can remove virus cells and other impurities from water, which may ultimately help create clean, affordable and abundant drinking water. A nanofabric paper towel, which can absorb 20 times its weight in oil, can be used for oil-spill clean-up operations. Each development teaches us something about the technology, what it is capable of, and how we can refine it further. These developments are just the beginning. ELECTRONICS: Many new screen-based appliances (TVs, phones, iPads and so on) incorporate nanostructured polymer films known as organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs). These screens are brighter, lighter and have a better picture quality, among other things. TEXTILES: Nanoscale additives in fabrics help resist staining, wrinkling and bacteria growth. COSMETICS: Nanoscale materials in a range of cosmetics provide functions such as improved coverage, absorption or cleansing. As with the spread of any powerful new technology, there are likely to be a range of negative as well as positive outcomes associated with nanotechnology. As investment in nanoscience and nanotechnology continues, some people are voicing ethical, environmental and economic concerns. While science-fiction theories of ‘grey goo’ (millions of self-replicating nanomachines) with the potential to destroy the world are far-fetched, there are valid concerns about other areas of nanoscience. For example, how do manufactured nanoparticles interact with biological systems of the human body and what health effects may this have? In laboratory tests some nanomaterials have been shown to affect the formation of fibrous protein tangles, which are similar to those seen in some brain diseases. There is some evidence that nanoparticles could lead to genetic damage. Nanoparticles have also been examined for their impact on the heart and blood vessels. Long-term exposure to nanoparticles, particularly as they become more common in everyday items, is something that needs to be monitored. The way that nanomaterials interact with the environment also needs further study. How a particle behaves in the lab may be very different to how it behaves in water, air or soil, and how it interacts with organic matter. Indeed, the way nanoparticles behave in the environment depends not only on their individual physical and chemical characters, but also on the character of the receiving environment (whether it is hot, wet, acidic and so on). When exposed to an environment, nanoparticles may remain intact, or undergo one of the following processes: dissolution, speciation (association with other ionic or molecular dissolved chemical substances), settling, agglomeration/deagglomeration, biological or chemical transformation in to other chemicals. Further research is needed in these areas and appropriate controls set up in relation to risk assessment. There is also the possibility that nanomaterials may move from organism to organism, or through food chains. The fact that there are many different types of nanomaterials means there is the potential for a wide range of effects. Some experiments have shown that they could have harmful effects on invertebrates and fish, including changes to their behaviour, development and reproduction. Risk assessment and testing needs to keep pace with the technology, especially as the use of nanomaterials expands into the production of ever more consumer goods. Testing needs to include methods for estimating exposure and identifying hazards. At present, the nanoparticles that possess the highest potential risk are free, insoluble nanoparticles, such as those dispersed in a dust or liquid. As we have seen, the unique physical and chemical properties of nanomaterials also often differ from those of bulk materials and require special assessment. Despite these concerns, most scientists believe that nanoscience will lead to huge advances in medicine, biotechnology, manufacturing, information technology and other equally diverse areas.

Keywords: Nanoparticles, Nanowires, Nanotubes, Nanoplates, Nanopowders, Nanocrystals, Buckminsterfullerene.


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