Over the past decadeï¼Œthere has been intense development of technologies based on nanometer-scale products, which has lead to a rapid expansion and diversification in the field of nanotechnology. Nanotechnology is being predicted as the basis of the next industrial revolution and will be used to transform and construct a wide range of new materials and even living organisms. It is defined as "the design, characterisation, production and application of structures, devices and systems" by controlling shape and size at the atomic and molecular levelï¼ˆBawa et al. 2005, pp.151ï¼‰.At these scales, materials begin to exhibit unique properties that affect human being's environment and health. However, there is increasing concern about this rapidly developing technology. Nanotechnology has potential hazards for people's lives. For instance, the nano-pollution on environment and exposure to nanomaterials seem to be harmful to the human body. This essay will focus on evaluating the benefits and potential risks of nanotechnology for human health and environmental protection. It will begin by examining nanotechnology used in medical applications and nanotechnology applications on clean energy production. Then it will go on to explore nano-pollution on the environment and the hazards of exposure to nanomaterials. Finally, some implications for the future of nanotechnology will be suggested.
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Firstly, nanotechnology is beginning to have a positive impact on human health through the potential of nanotechnological innovations to have medical applications to cure diseases. These medical applications include advanced drug delivery systems, therapy for cancer and nanorobotsï¼ˆCoombs&Robinson 1996ï¼‰. In terms of advanced drug delivery systems, they depend on developing nanoscale particles to improve the pharmacological and therapeutic properties of drugs (Allen&Cullis 2004). Nanoparticles have unusual properties that cells take up these nanoscale particles because of their small size while larger particles would have been cleared from the body. Therefore, utilizing nanotechnology could allow manufacturing of nanoparticles with high loading efficiency and high loading capacity on drugs. These sorts of drugs can be typical examples of manufacturing drug delivery systems by nanotechnology. In terms of therapy for cancer, it benefits from the medical use of nanomaterials. The small size of nanoparticles endows them with properties that can be very useful in the therapy of cancer, particularly in imaging. For example, Sensor test chips containing thousands of nanowires which are able to detect proteins and other biomarkers left behind by cancer cells could enable the detection and diagnosis of cancer in the early stages from a few drops of a patient's blood (Zheng et al. 2005). Consequently, this means that nanotechnology can increase the possibility of cancer detection and probably increase the probability of a successful cure for cancer. As for nanorobots, they are expected to be designed to get into human's body and repair or detect damages and infections. According to the study of Freitas (2005), due to the capillary passage limits the maximum size of its internal objects, a typical blood borne medical nanorobot would be between 0.5-3 micrometres in size. It can be imagined that if nanorobots are injected into a human body, it would then go to work in a specific organ or tissue mass and solve the problems of human health. However, through the requirement of its extremely small size, manufacture nanorobots is far beyond current capabilities. It is still a speculative field.
Secondly, nanotechnology will also result in some benefits on environment protection through having a great effect on clean energy production. Clean energy production is supposed to lead to more efficient solar cells, practical fuel cells, and environmentally-friendly batteries. As for solar cells, current available solar cells in commercial use have low efficiencies of 15-20% (Tian 2007). For increasing the efficiencies of current conventional fuel cells, researches are ongoing to create cheaper and more efficient solar cells by using nanowires and other nanostructured materials (Tian 2007). It is believed that these nanoelectronics-based devices will enable more efficient solar cells and have a great effect on satisfying global energy needs. In terms of fuel cells, the use of them powered by hydrogen which is ideally produced by renewable energies is exemplified for an environmentally-friendly form of energy. Theehhhh problem with contemporary fuel cells is the low storage of the fuel. Scientists have come up with a solution to it by using a nanomaterial which is a relatively inexpensive material through the process of changing its interior temperature (Lee et al. 2003). Thus, utilizing nanomaterials for refining hydrogen provide a high storage of the fuel. It will significantly increase the practicality of fuel cells and lead to more efficient use of energy. In terms of batteries, nanotechnology may have applications in environmentally-friendly ones. The use of nanomaterials may enable batteries with higher energy content and a higher rate of recharging. Several companies are researching and developing these technologies. For example, Toshiba (2005) announced that they had a new Lithium-Ion battery with a nanostructured lattice at the cathode and anode. It allowed the battery to recharge a surprising eighty times faster than previously. According to some researches, higher conductivity of batteries can also be reached by utilizing nanomaterials and it will lead to an increase in power (Toshiba 2005). Therefore, with the developing of nanotechnology, nano-applications in batteries are expected to extend the batteries' operating time and make it be recharged repeatedly. Afterwards, the nano-applications in batteries may be helpful for the disposal problems which are caused by the current huge number of spent batteries with low energy density.
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However, nanotechnology probably has some potential hazards for human health. It can be posed by exposure to nanomaterials. The exposure to nanomaterials may influence some toxicity which can pose a threat to human beings. This toxicity have been proved to affect human tissue and cell cultures, resulting in increased oxidative stress, inflammatory cytokine production and cell death (Andre et al. 2006). That can also be proved by Andrew's research (2006, p.310), he mentioned that "certain nanoparticles may move easily into sensitive lung tissues after inhalation, and cause damage that can lead to chronic breathing problems". Moreover, the results of a recent study demonstrated that long thin carbon nanotubes showed the same effects as long thin asbestos fibers (Poland et al. 2008). Accordingly, there are increasing concern that exposure to carbon nanotubes may lead to mesothelioma which means the cancer of lining of lungs caused by exposure to asbestos (Poland et al. 2008). These large amounts of variable influencing toxicity means that it is difficult to generalize about health risks associated with exposure to nanomaterials. Thus, each new nanomaterial should be assessed individually and all material properties should be taken into account.
Additionally, nanotechnology may also lead to some risks on the environmental protection. The risks are caused by the possibly type of pollution that nanotechnological materials might cause when they are released into the environment. All waste generated by nanodevices or during the nanomaterials manufacturing process are linked to nano-pollution. This kind of waste may be very dangerous because of its small size. It can cause unknown effects by floating in the air and easily penetrating animal and plant cells. Scrinis (2007, p.24) raises concern about nano-pollution, and argues that it is currently hard to "precisely predict or control the ecological impacts of the release of these nano-products into the environment". Most nanoparticles which made by human do not appear in nature, so living organisms may not have appropriate ways to deal with nano-waste. It is probably one great challenge to nanotechnology which is hard to deal with its nano-pollutants and nano-waste.
Due to these negative impacts that nanotechnology may have on human health and environmental protection, legal requirements in the world need to be developed for manufacturers to conduct new safety tests on nanoscale ingredients. It can ensure that the people who use these products and the workers involved in product manufacture, packaging and transport, are not exposed to unacceptable risks. These Requirements also need to be developed for manufacturers to demonstrate that the novel properties of nanoscale ingredients, nano-processing, or product manufacture do not present an increased negative impact on the environment. If legal requirements are properly developed in nanotechnology industry, with the development of nanotechnology, it will change people's lives in the near future. Precisely, in the around 2015, nanotechnology convergence will probably enable vastly superior treatment of disease and life extension, including effective treatments for cancer and through the production of synthetic organs (Roco 2004). In the long term, from 2015 to 2050, development of molecular assembly-based nano-factories capable of decentralized could atomically-precise manufacture everything from bicycles to supercomputers and weapons (Center for Responsible Nanotechnology 2005). These means nanotechnology is considered as the next industrial revolution and will probably play an important role on people's lives.
In conclusion, nanotechnology may have both benefits and potential hazards for human health and environmental protection. The benefits on human health can be caused by the medical applications of nanotechnology, such as advanced drug delivery systems, therapy for cancer and nanorobots. Also, some good impact on the environmental protection can be a result of the impact on clean energy production with nanotechnology; nanotechnology applications lead to more efficient solar cells, practical fuel cells, and environmentally-friendly batteries. Nevertheless, the potential hazards on health and environmental protection will probably be caused by nano-pollution and the toxicity of nanomaterial exposure. Thus, legal requirements about nanotechnology manufactory need to be concerned and developed. Then it will be supposed as the solutions to these potential hazards. Finally, although some potential hazards of nanotechnology may occur in nanoindustry, nanotechnology is still considered to have a bright future and lead to the next industrial revolution.