Interesting Innovations in Nanotechnology across Multiple Sectors
The term nanotechnology dates back to the 1980s & was coined by U.S. engineer Eric Drexler. The past few decades have seen a steadily rising number of applications of nanotechnology in almost all areas ranging from textiles to computing.
Nanotechnology is an enabling technology and this feature is a significant reason that convinces companies to enter into this field. It’s because the innovations in nanotechnology allows for both, the improvement of existing products and the development of entirely new products and processes. Businesses often experiment with its numerous applications at the same time, many of which are still in the research phase.
Nanotechnology is a complex field owing to its dependence on various scientific areas, research/engineering strategies, and advanced instrumentation. Since it’s relatively a new area, its unfolding applications are surprising to many scientists and researchers around the world.
The following are a few of the best breakthroughs in nanotechnology.
1. New Energy Source — Thermopower
MIT scientists at MIT have found a previously unknown phenomenon that can bring about powerful waves of energy to shoot through minuscule wires. The discovery could lead to a new way of producing power.
The phenomenon, described as thermopower waves,” opens up a new area of energy research, which is rare,” states Michael Strano, MIT’s Charles and Hilda Roddey Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering, who had been the senior author of a paper describing the findings which arose in Nature Materials on March 7, 2011. Wonjoon Choi, a doctoral student in mechanical engineering was the lead author.
Carbon nanotubes are hollow tubes made of a lattice of carbon atoms. These tubes, just a few billionths of a meter (nanometers) in diameter, are part of a family of novel carbon molecules, like buckyballs and graphene sheets.
In the experiments conducted by Michael Strano and his team, a layer of a reactive fuel that produces heat on decomposing was coated on nanotubes. This fuel was subsequently ignited at one end of the nanotube using a laser beam or a high-voltage spark, and the outcome was a thermal wave traveling across the length of the carbon nanotube like a fire speeding along the length of a fuse.
The heat goes into the nanotube, where it travels thousands of times faster than in the fuel itself. As the heat travels back to the coating, a thermal wave is generated which is guided along the nanotube. With the temperature reaching 3,000 kelvins, this ring of heat speeds along the tube 10,000 times faster than the spread of the chemical reaction. The heat produced by this combustion also pushes electrons to generate electricity.
2. Nanoparticles for Cancer treatments
Cancer patients currently have three treatment options: chemotherapy, surgery, or radiation. Even though the three methods vary in function, the purpose is the same i.e. to eradicate the targeted cancer cells with minimal damage.
However, according to The National Cancer Institute, “All three methods risk damage to normal tissue or incomplete eradication of cancer.” In chemotherapy, the released cytotoxic drugs are intended to kill cancerous cells. But in the process, they kill healthy cells too. This process can result in side effects including fatigue, nausea, pain and nervous system effects, appetite loss, and hair loss. These side effects are common and frequent in most cancer patients, although reactions and treatments vary from patient to patient.
Nanoparticles for carrying chemotherapy drugs into the body have made many advancements in cancer treatment. Nano-carriers limit the harm to healthy cells by targeting only cancerous cells.
3. A Nanotech Detector for Heart Attacks
Tiny bloodstream nanosensor chips are used in this technology where these chips sense the precursor of a heart attack. A person with this tiny chip gets warned on a wireless device or a smartphone with an urgency to visit a cardiologist.
The latest version of this chip is smaller than a grain of sand measuring 90 microns. Nanosensor is injected into a patient’s arm. The sensor then flows to the distal tip of the finger embedding itself and screening the blood for endothelial cells that are sloughed off an artery wall in a precursory period before a heart attack.
Diseases such as cancer or autoimmune diseases can also be detected wit this combination of nanosensor & smartphone. It can also have a promising application in screening the rejection in patients with organ transplants. Here, the nanosensor may be calibrated to discover the donor organ DNA in the blood, which would start to appear in the blood as an early indication of rejection.
Eric Topol, MD, at San Diego-based Scripps Health is carrying out this groundbreaking work along with Axel Scherer, Ph.D., of Caltech.
4. Computers with ceaseless memories
This breakthrough, achieved by a team of scientists from the University of Southampton, could open the door to a new generation of electronics.
The research team has revealed that it achieved blistering speeds using a newly developed memristor in a paper published to Scientific Reports. Memristor is a much simpler and smaller alternative to a transistor and has the ability to alter its resistance and store multiple memory states.
Due to their smaller size, simpler design, and low energy consumption, they are seen as the next evolutionary step of transistors. They can also retain data by ‘remembering’ the amount of charge that has passed through them
The implication of this is a computer than can be switched on instantly and that can remember every action ever performed on it.
5. Nano-catalyst for Waste-treatment:
Leading Nano-Scientists, at the Nano Wealth LLP (India), have developed a novel way to convert any waste including agricultural or plastic mixed municipal waste into activated carbon and carbon nanotubes using special nano-catalysts. Lab results are quite promising.
The breakthrough moment came when the catalysts converted the waste into high grade activated carbon and carbon nanotubes at a surprisingly low pyrolyzing temperature. Such a low temperature reduces the energy requirement for Pyrolysis making the technology environment friendly and super-efficient.
The alpha version of a working prototype is currently under development. The team is convinced that the results would be promising.
Nanotechnology is at the forefront of technology and science. Innovations in nanotechnology have many specific benefits that are already being researched for improving the lives of people. As science and technology advance, the world appears more like science fiction. New innovations in nanotechnology are definitely a big driver in that direction. A functional approach to uncover new profitable markets may also be adopted for finding promising applications of nanotechnology with high commercial potential.
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