Nanotechnology Combination Of Biotechnology Chemistry Physics And Bioinformatics Biology Essay

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Nanotechnology is derived from the combination of two words Nano and Technology. Nano means very small or "miniature". So, Nanotechnology is the technology in miniature form. It is the combination of Bio- technology, Chemistry, Physics and Bio-informatics, etc. Nanotechnology originated in India around 16 years back. It is in its early development phase. There are several career opportunities for such students in domestic as well as international markets. This new sphere of scientific innovation has a broader scope. Several Indian institutes have introduced degree courses in Nanotechnology at both the UG and PG levels. The areas covered in the Nanotech are Food and Beverage, Bio- Technology, Forensic Sciences, Genetics, Space Research, Environment industry, Medicine, Agriculture and Teaching.

The three chief divisions of Nanotech are Nanoelectronics, Nanomaterials, and Nano-Biotechnology. The implications of Nanotechnology in India can be found in the field of telecommunications, computing, aerospace, solar energy, and environment. However, Nanotech's major contribution can be seen in the computing, communication and, medical field. Nanomedicine is the most important field of Nanotechnology. The nano level gadgets and materials are used for diagnosing and treatment of diseases. Nano-Pharmacology has generated a specific category of smart drugs that affect negligible side effects. The use of Nanotech has also helped in the detection of narcotics and fingerprints of the suspected criminals. The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, also known as CSIR has set up 38 laboratories in India dedicated to research in Nanotechnology. This technology will be used in diagnostic kits, improved water filters and sensors and drug delivery. The research is being conducted on using it to reduce pollution emitted by the vehicles.

Human hair fragment and a network of single-walled carbon nanotubes (Image: Jirka Cech). It seems that a size limitation of nanotechnology to the 1-100 nm range, the area where size-dependant quantum effects come to bear, would exclude numerous materials and devices, especially in the pharamaceutical area, and some experts caution against a rigid definition based on a sub-100 nm size.

Another important criteria for the definition is the requirement that the nano-structure is man-made. Otherwise you would have to include every naturally formed biomolecule and material particle, in effect redefining much of chemistry and molecular biology as 'nanotechnology.' The most important requirement for the nanotechnology definition is that the nano-structure has special properties that are exclusively due to its nanoscale proportions.

The Significance of the Nanoscale

A nanometer (nm) is one thousand millionth of a meter. For comparison, a red blood cell is approximately 7,000 nm wide and a water molecule is almost 0.3nm across. People are interested in the nanoscale (which we define to be from 100nm down to the size of atoms (approximately 0.2nm)) because it is at this scale that the properties of materials can be very different from those at a larger scale. We define nanoscience as the study of phenomena and manipulation of materials at atomic, molecular and macromolecular scales, where properties differ significantly from those at a larger scale; and nanotechnologies as the design, characterisation, production and application of structures, devices and systems by controlling shape and size at the nanometer scale.

The properties of materials can be different at the nanoscale for two main reasons:

First, nanomaterials have a relatively larger surface area when compared to the same mass of material produced in a larger form. This can make materials more chemically reactive (in some cases materials that are inert in their larger form are reactive when produced in their nanoscale form), and affect their strength or electrical properties.

Second, quantum effects can begin to dominate the behaviour of matter at the nanoscale - particularly at the lower end - affecting the optical, electrical and magnetic behaviour of materials. Materials can be produced that are nanoscale in one dimension (for example, very thin surface coatings), in two dimensions (for example, nanowires and nanotubes) or in all three dimensions (for example, nanoparticles).

New Materials: Nanomaterials

Much of nanoscience and many nanotechnologies are concerned with producing new or enhanced materials. Nanomaterials can be constructed by 'top down' techniques, producing very small structures from larger pieces of material, for example by etching to create circuits on the surface of a silicon microchip. They may also be constructed by 'bottom up' techniques, atom by atom or molecule by molecule. One way of doing this is self-assembly, in which the atoms or molecules arrange themselves into a structure due to their natural properties. Crystals grown for the semiconductor industry provide an example of self assembly, as does chemical synthesis of large molecules. A second way is to use tools to move each atom or molecule individually. Although this 'positional assembly' offers greater control over construction, it is currently very laborious and not suitable for industrial applications.

It has been 25 years since the Scanning Tunneling Microscope (STM) was invented, followed four years later by the Atomic Force Microscope, and that's when nanoscience and nanotechnology really started to take off. Various forms of scanning probe microscopes based on these discoveries are essential for many areas of today's research. Scanning probe techniques have become the workhorse of nanoscience and nanotechnology research. Here is a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) image of a gold tip for Near-field Scanning Optical Microscopy (SNOM) obtained by Focussed Ion Beam (FIB) milling. The small tip at the center of the structure measures some tens of nanometers.

Gold Tip for SNOM, imaged by SEM, 2006, Gian Carlo Gazzadi and Pietro Gucciardi, with Lucia Covi.( From Blow Up. Images from the nanoworld, edited by S3 Research Center (INFM-CNR), Damiani, Bologna. © S3 National Research Center (INFM-CNR), Modena, Italy

Nanomaterials - Definition

Although a broad definition, we categorise nanomaterials as those which have structured components with at least one dimension less than 100nm. Materials that have one dimension in the nanoscale (and are extended in the other two dimensions) are layers, such as a thin films or surface coatings. Some of the features on computer chips come in this category. Materials that are nanoscale in two dimensions (and extended in one dimension) include nanowires and nanotubes. Materials that are nanoscale in three dimensions are particles, for example precipitates, colloids and quantum dots (tiny particles of semiconductor materials). Nanocrystalline materials, made up of nanometre-sized grains, also fall into this category. Some of these materials have been available for some time; others are genuinely new. The aim of this chapter is to give an overview of the properties, and the significant foreseeable applications of some key nanomaterials.

Two principal factors cause the properties of nanomaterials to differ significantly from other materials: increased relative surface area, and quantum effects. These factors can change or enhance properties such as reactivity, strength and electrical characteristics. As a particle decreases in size, a greater proportion of atoms are found at the surface compared to those inside. For example, a particle of size 30 nm has 5% of its atoms on its surface, at 10 nm 20% of its atoms, and at 3 nm 50% of its atoms. Thus nanoparticles have a much greater surface area per unit mass compared with larger particles. As growth and catalytic chemical reactions occur at surfaces, this means that a given mass of material in nanoparticulate form will be much more reactive than the same mass of material made up of larger particles.

Properties of Nanomaterials

In tandem with surface-area effects, quantum effects can begin to dominate the properties of matter as size is reduced to the nanoscale. These can affect the optical, electrical and magnetic behaviour of materials, particularly as the structure or particle size approaches the smaller end of the nanoscale. Materials that exploit these effects include quantum dots, and quantum well lasers for optoelectronics.

For other materials such as crystalline solids, as the size of their structural components decreases, there is much greater interface area within the material; this can greatly affect both mechanical and electrical properties. For example, most metals are made up of small crystalline grains; the boundaries between the grain slow down or arrest the propagation of defects when the material is stressed, thus giving it strength. If these grains can be made very small, or even nanoscale in size, the interface area within the material greatly increases, which enhances its strength. For example, nanocrystalline nickel is as strong as hardened steel. Understanding surfaces and interfaces is a key challenge for those working on nanomaterials, and one where new imaging and analysis instruments are vital.

Nanomaterial Science

Nanomaterials are not simply another step in the miniaturization of materials. They often require very different production approaches. There are several processes to create nanomaterials, classified as 'top-down' and 'bottom-up'. Although many nanomaterials are currently at the laboratory stage of manufacture, a few of them are being commercialised.

Below we outline some examples of nanomaterials and the range of nanoscience that is aimed at understanding their properties. As will be seen, the behaviour of some nanomaterials is well understood, whereas others present greater challenges.

Nanoscale in One Dimension

Thin films, layers and surfaces

One-dimensional nanomaterials, such as thin films and engineered surfaces, have been developed and used for decades in fields such as electronic device manufacture, chemistry and engineering. In the silicon integrated-circuit industry, for example, many devices rely on thin films for their operation, and control of film thicknesses approaching the atomic level is routine. Monolayers (layers that are one atom or molecule deep) are also routinely made and used in chemistry. The formation and properties of these layers are reasonably well understood from the atomic level upwards, even in quite complex layers (such as lubricants). Advances are being made in the control of the composition and smoothness of surfaces, and the growth of films.

Engineered surfaces with tailored properties such as large surface area or specific reactivity are used routinely in a range of applications such as in fuel cells and catalysts. The large surface area provided by nanoparticles, together with their ability to self assemble on a support surface, could be of use in all of these applications.

Nanoscale in Two Dimensions

Two dimensional nanomaterials such as tubes and wires have generated considerable interest among the scientific community in recent years. In particular, their novel electrical and mechanical properties are the subject of intense research.

a) Carbon Nanotubes

Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) were first observed by Sumio Iijima in 1991. CNTs are extended tubes of rolled graphene sheets. There are two types of CNT: single-walled (one tube) or multi-walled (several concentric tubes). Both of these are typically a few nanometres in diameter and several micrometres to centimetres long. CNTs have assumed an important role in the context of nanomaterials, because of their novel chemical and physical properties. They are mechanically very strong (their Young's modulus is over 1 terapascal, making CNTs as stiff as diamond), flexible (about their axis), and can conduct electricity extremely well (the helicity of the graphene sheet determines whether the CNT is a semiconductor or metallic). All of these remarkable properties give CNTs a range of potential applications: for example, in reinforced composites, sensors, nanoelectronics and display devices.

Nanoscale in Two Dimensions

b) Inorganic Nanotubes

Inorganic nanotubes and inorganic fullerene-like materials based on layered compounds such as molybdenum disulphide were discovered shortly after CNTs. They have excellent tribological (lubricating) properties, resistance to shockwave impact, catalytic reactivity, and high capacity for hydrogen and lithium storage, which suggest a range of promising applications. Oxide-based nanotubes (such as titanium dioxide) are being explored for their applications in catalysis, photo-catalysis and energy storage.

c) Nanowires

Nanowires are ultrafine wires or linear arrays of dots, formed by self-assembly. They can be made from a wide range of materials. Semiconductor nanowires made of silicon, gallium nitride and indium phosphide have demonstrated remarkable optical, electronic and magnetic characteristics (for example, silica nanowires can bend light around very tight corners). Nanowires have potential applications in high-density data storage, either as magnetic read heads or as patterned storage media, and electronic and opto-electronic nanodevices, for metallic interconnects of quantum devices and nanodevices. The preparation of these nanowires relies on sophisticated growth techniques, which include selfassembly processes, where atoms arrange themselves naturally on stepped surfaces, chemical vapour deposition (CVD) onto patterned substrates, electroplating or molecular beam epitaxy (MBE). The 'molecular beams' are typically from thermally evaporated elemental sources.

d) Biopolymers

The variability and site recognition of biopolymers, such as DNA molecules, offer a wide range of opportunities for the self-organization of wire nanostructures into much more complex patterns. The DNA backbones may then, for example, be coated in metal. They also offer opportunities to link nano- and biotechnology in, for example, biocompatible sensors and small, simple motors. Such self-assembly of organic backbone nanostructures is often controlled by weak interactions, such as hydrogen bonds, hydrophobic, or van der Waals interactions (generally in aqueous environments) and hence requires quite different synthesis strategies to CNTs, for example. The combination of one-dimensional nanostructures consisting of biopolymers and inorganic compounds opens up a number of scientific and technological opportunities.

Nanoscale in Three Dimensions

a) Nanoparticles

Nanoparticles are often defined as particles of less than 100nm in diameter. We classify nanoparticles to be particles less than 100nm in diameter that exhibit new or enhanced size-dependent properties compared with larger particles of the same material. Nanoparticles exist widely in the natural world: for example as the products of photochemical and volcanic activity, and created by plants and algae. They have also been created for thousands of years as products of combustion and food cooking, and more recently from vehicle exhausts. Deliberately manufactured nanoparticles, such as metal oxides, are by comparison in the minority.

Nanoparticles are of interest because of the new properties (such as chemical reactivity and optical behaviour) that they exhibit compared with larger particles of the same materials. For example, titanium dioxide and zinc oxide become transparent at the nanoscale, however are able to absorb and reflect UV light, and have found application in sunscreens. Nanoparticles have a range of potential applications: in the short-term in new cosmetics, textiles and paints; in the longer term, in methods of targeted drug delivery where they could be to used deliver drugs to a specific site in the body. Nanoparticles can also be arranged into layers on surfaces, providing a large surface area and hence enhanced activity, relevant to a range of potential applications such as catalysts.

Nanoscale in Three Dimensions

b) Fullerenes (carbon 60)

In the mid-1980s a new class of carbon material was discovered called carbon 60 (C60).Harry Kroto andRichard Smalley, the experimental chemists who discovered C60 named it "buckminsterfullerene", in recognition of the architect Buckminster Fuller, who was well-known for building geodesic domes, and the term fullerenes was then given to any closed carbon cage. C60 are spherical molecules about 1nm in diameter, comprising 60 carbon atoms arranged as 20 hexagons and 12 pentagons: the configuration of a football. In 1990, a technique to produce larger quantities of C60 was developed by resistively heating graphite rods in a helium atmosphere. Several applications are envisaged for fullerenes, such as miniature 'ball bearings' to lubricate surfaces, drug delivery vehicles and in electronic circuits.

c) Dendrimers

Dendrimers are spherical polymeric molecules, formed through a nanoscale hierarchical self-assembly process. There are many types of dendrimer; the smallest is several nanometres in size. Dendrimers are used in conventional applications such as coatings and inks, but they also have a range of interesting properties which could lead to useful applications. For example, dendrimers can act as nanoscale carrier molecules and as such could be used in drug delivery. Environmental clean-up could be assisted by dendrimers as they can trap metal ions, which could then be filtered out of water with ultra-filtration techniques.

d) Quantum Dots

Nanoparticles of semiconductors (quantum dots) were theorized in the 1970s and initially created in the early 1980s. If semiconductor particles are made small enough, quantum effects come into play, which limit the energies at which electrons and holes (the absence of an electron) can exist in the particles. As energy is related to wavelength (or colour), this means that the optical properties of the particle can be finely tuned depending on its size. Thus, particles can be made to emit or absorb specific wavelengths (colours) of light, merely by controlling their size. Recently, quantum dots have found applications in composites, solar cells (Gratzel cells) and fluorescent biological labels (for example to trace a biological molecule) which use both the small particle size and tuneable energy levels. Recent advances in chemistry have resulted in the preparation of monolayer-protected, high-quality, monodispersed, crystalline quantum dots as small as 2nm in diameter, which can be conveniently treated and processed as a typical chemical reagent.

Applications of Nanomaterials

Below we list some key current and potential shortand long-term applications of nanomaterials. Most current applications represent evolutionary developments of existing technologies: for example, the reduction in size of electronics devices.


Current Applications

a) Sunscreens and Cosmetics

Nanosized titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are currently used in some sunscreens, as they absorb and reflect ultraviolet (UV) rays and yet are transparent to visible light and so are more appealing to the consumer. Nanosized iron oxide is present in some lipsticks as a pigment but it is our understanding that it is not used by the European cosmetics sector. The use of nanoparticles in cosmetics has raised a number of concerns about consumer safety.

b) Composites

An important use of nanoparticles and nanotubes is in composites, materials that combine one or more separate components and which are designed to exhibit overall the best properties of each component. This multi-functionality applies not only to mechanical properties, but extends to optical, electrical and magnetic ones. Currently, carbon fibres and bundles of multi-walled CNTs are used in polymers to control or enhance conductivity, with applications such as antistatic packaging. The use of individual CNTs in composites is a potential long-term application. A particular type of nanocomposite is where nanoparticles act as fillers in a matrix; for example, carbon black used as a filler to reinforce car tyres. However, particles of carbon black can range from tens to hundreds of nanometres in size, so not all carbon black falls within our definition of nanoparticles.

Current Applications

c) Clays

Clays containing naturally occurring nanoparticles have long been important as construction materials and are undergoing continuous improvement. Clay particle based composites - containing plastics and nano-sized flakes of clay - are also finding applications such as use in car bumpers.

d) Coatings and Surfaces

Coatings with thickness controlled at the nano- or atomic scale have been in routine production for some time, for example in molecular beam epitaxy or metal oxide chemical vapor depositionfor optoelectonic devices, or in catalytically active and chemically functionalized surfaces. Recently developed applications include the self-cleaning window, which is coated in highly activated titanium dioxide, engineered to be highly hydrophobic (water repellent) and antibacterial, and coatings based on nanoparticulate oxides that catalytically destroy chemical agents. Wear and scratch-resistant hard coatings are significantly improved by nanoscale intermediate layers (or multilayers) between the hard outer layer and the substrate material. The intermediate layers give good bonding and graded matching of elastic and thermal properties, thus improving adhesion. A range of enhanced textiles, such as breathable, waterproof and stainresistant fabrics, have been enabled by the improved control of porosity at the nanoscale and surface roughness in a variety of polymers and inorganics.

e) Tougher and Harder Cutting Tools

Cutting tools made of nanocrystalline materials, such as tungsten carbide, tantalum carbide and titanium carbide, are more wear and erosion-resistant, and last longer than their conventional (large-grained) counterparts. They are finding applications in the drills used to bore holes in circuit boards.

Short-term Applications (next 5 years)

a) Paints

Incorporating nanoparticles in paints could improve their performance, for example by making them lighter and giving them different properties. Thinner paint coatings ('lightweighting'), used for example on aircraft, would reduce their weight, which could be beneficial to the environment. However, the whole life cycle of the aircraft needs to be considered before overall benefits can be claimed. It may also be possible to substantially reduce solvent content of paints, with resulting environmental benefits. New types of foulingresistant marine paint could be developed and are urgently needed as alternatives to tributyl tin (TBT), now that the ecological impacts of TBT have been recognised. Anti-fouling surface treatment is also valuable in process applications such as heat exchange, where it could lead to energy savings. If they can be produced at sufficiently low cost, fouling-resistant coatings could be used in routine duties such as piping for domestic and industrial water systems. It remains speculation whether very effective anti-fouling coatings could reduce the use of biocides, including chlorine. Other novel, and more long-term, applications for nanoparticles might lie in paints that change colour in response to change in temperature or chemical environment, or paints that have reduced infra-red absorptivity and so reduce heat loss.

Short-term Applications (next 5 years)

b) Remediation

The potential of nanoparticles to react with pollutants in soil and groundwater and transform them into harmless compounds is being researched. In one pilot study the large surface area and high surface reactivity of iron nanoparticles were exploited to transform chlorinated hydrocarbons (some of which are believed to be carcinogens) into less harmful end products in groundwater. It is also hoped that they could be used to transform heavy metals such as lead and mercury from bioavailable forms into insoluble forms. Serious concerns have been raised over the uncontrolled release of nanoparticles into the environment.

c) Fuel Cells

Engineered surfaces are essential in fuel cells, where the external surface properties and the pore structure affect performance. The hydrogen used as the immediate fuel in fuel cells may be generated from hydrocarbons by catalytic reforming, usually in a reactor module associated directly with the fuel cell. The potential use of nano-engineered membranes to intensify catalytic processes could enable higher-efficiency, small-scale fuel cells. These could act as distributed sources of electrical power. It may eventually be possible to produce hydrogen locally from sources other than hydrocarbons, which are the feedstocks of current attention.

d) Displays

The huge market for large area, high brightness, flat-panel displays, as used in television screens and computer monitors, is driving the development of some nanomaterials. Nanocrystalline zinc selenide, zinc sulphide, cadmium sulphide and lead telluride synthesized by sol-gel techniques (a process for making ceramic and glass materials, involving the transition from a liquid 'sol' phase to a solid 'gel' phase) are candidates for the next generation of light-emitting phosphors. CNTs are being investigated for low voltage field-emission displays; their strength, sharpness, conductivity and inertness make them potentially very efficient and long-lasting emitters.

Short-term Applications (next 5 years)

e) Batteries

With the growth in portable electronic equipment (mobile phones, navigation devices, laptop computers, remote sensors), there is great demand for lightweight, high-energy density batteries. Nanocrystalline materials synthesized by sol-gel techniques are candidates for separator plates in batteries because of their foam-like (aerogel) structure, which can hold considerably more energy than conventional ones. Nickel-metal hydride batteries made of nanocrystalline nickel and metal hydrides are envisioned to require less frequent recharging and to last longer because of their large grain boundary (surface) area.

f) Fuel Additives

Research is underway into the addition of nanoparticulate ceria (cerium oxide) to diesel fuel to improve fuel economy by reducing the degradation of fuel consumption over time.

g) Catalysts

In general, nanoparticles have a high surface area, and hence provide higher catalytic activity. Nanotechnologies are enabling changes in the degree of control in the production of nanoparticles, and the support structure on which they reside. It is possible to synthesise metal nanoparticles in solution in the presence of a surfactant to form highly ordered monodisperse films of the catalyst nanoparticles on a surface. This allows more uniformity in the size and chemical structure of the catalyst, which in turn leads to greater catalytic activity and the production of fewer byproducts. It may also be possible to engineer specific or selective activity. These more active and durable catalysts could find early application in cleaning up waste streams. This will be particularly beneficial if it reduces the demand for platinum-group metals, whose use in standard catalytic units is starting to emerge as a problem, given the limited availability of these metals.

Longer-term Applications (next 5-15 years)

a) Carbon Nanotube Composites

CNTs have exceptional mechanical properties, particularly high tensile strength and light weight. An obvious area of application would be in nanotubereinforced composites, with performance beyond current carbon-fibre composites. One current limit to the introduction of CNTs in composites is the problem of structuring the tangle of nanotubes in a well-ordered manner so that use can be made of their strength. Another challenge is generating strong bonding between CNTs and the matrix, to give good overall composite performance and retention during wear or erosion of composites. The surfaces of CNTs are smooth and relatively unreactive, and so tend to slip through the matrix when it is stressed. One approach that is being explored to prevent this slippage is the attachment of chemical side-groups to CNTs, effectively to form 'anchors'. Another limiting factor is the cost of production of CNTs. However, the potential benefits of such light, high strength material in numerous applications for transportation are such that significant further research is likely.

b) Lubricants

Nanospheres of inorganic materials could be used as lubricants, in essence by acting as nanosized 'ball bearings'. The controlled shape is claimed to make them more durable than conventional solid lubricants and wear additives. Whether the increased financial and resource cost of producing them is offset by the longer service life of lubricants and parts remains to be investigated. It is also claimed that these nanoparticles reduce friction between metal surfaces, particularly at high normal loads. If so, they should find their first applications in high-performance engines and drivers; this could include the energy sector as well as transport. There is a further claim that this type of lubricant is effective even if the metal surfaces are not highly smooth. Again, the benefits of reduced cost and resource input for machining must be compared against production of nanolubricants. In all these applications, the particles would be dispersed in a conventional liquid lubricant; design of the lubricant system must therefore include measures to contain and manage waste.

Longer-term Applications (next 5-15 years)

c) Magnetic Materials

It has been shown that magnets made of nanocrystalline yttrium-samarium-cobalt grains possess unusual magnetic properties due to their extremely large grain interface area (high coercivity can be obtained because magnetization flips cannot easily propagate past the grain boundaries). This could lead to applications in motors, analytical instruments like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), used widely in hospitals, and microsensors. Overall magnetisation, however, is currently limited by the ability to align the grains' direction of magnetisation.

Nanoscale-fabricated magnetic materials also have applications in data storage. Devices such as computer hard disks depend on the ability to magnetize small areas of a spinning disk to record information. If the area required to record one piece of information can be shrunk in the nanoscale (and can be written and read reliably), the storage capacity of the disk can be improved dramatically. In the future, the devices on computer chips which currently operate using flows of electrons could use the magnetic properties of these electrons, called spin, with numerous advantages. Recent advances in novel magnetic materials and their nanofabrication are encouraging in this respect.

d) Medical Implants

Current medical implants, such as orthopaedic implants and heart valves, are made of titanium and stainless steel alloys, primarily because they are biocompatible. Unfortunately, in some cases these metal alloys may wear out within the lifetime of the patient. Nanocrystalline zirconium oxide (zirconia) is hard, wearresistant, bio-corrosion resistant and bio-compatible. It therefore presents an attractive alternative material for implants. It and other nanoceramics can also be made as strong, light aerogels by sol-gel techniques. Nanocrystalline silicon carbide is a candidate material for artificial heart valves primarily because of its low weight, high strength and inertness.

Nanotechnology is also used to treat several diseases like cancer, by targeting a specific cancer cells unlike in chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Gold will be used as a carrier of medicine. Even genetic disorders are also treated by using nanotechnology

e) Machinable Ceramics

Ceramics are hard, brittle and difficult to machine. However, with a reduction in grain size to the nanoscale, ceramic ductility can be increased. Zirconia, normally a hard, brittle ceramic, has even been rendered superplastic (for example, able to be deformed up to 300% of its original length). Nanocrystalline ceramics, such as silicon nitride and silicon carbide, have been used in such automotive applications as high-strength springs, ball bearings and valve lifters, because they can be easily formed and machined, as well as exhibiting excellent chemical and high-temperature properties. They are also used as components in high-temperature furnaces. Nanocrystalline ceramics can be pressed into complex net shapes and sintered at significantly lower temperatures than conventional ceramics.

f) Water Purification

Nano-engineered membranes could potentially lead to more energy-efficient water purification processes, notably in desalination by reverse osmosis. Again, these applications would represent incremental improvements in technologies that are already available. They would use fixed nanoparticles, and are therefore distinct from applications that propose to use free nanoparticles.

g) Military Battle Suits

Enhanced nanomaterials form the basis of a state-of- the-art 'battle suit' that is being developed by theInstitute of Soldier Nanotechnologies at MIT. A short-term development is likely to be energy-absorbing materials that will withstand blast waves; longer-term are those that incorporate sensors to detect or respond to chemical and biological weapons (for example, responsive nanopores that 'close' upon detection of a biological agent). There is speculation that developments could include materials which monitor physiology while a soldier is still on the battlefield, and uniforms with potential medical applications, such as splints for broken bones.

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Images of Nanotechnology

Developing new instruments to be able to "see" at the nanoscale is a research field in itself. Shown here is the tip of an atomic force microscope (AFM), one of the foremost tools for imaging, measuring and manipulating matter at the nanoscale. Here, a platinum electrode measuring one hundredth of a nanometer has been deposited on the tip of this pyramid shaped AFM tip via focused ion beam (FIB) deposition. (Image: C. Menozzi, G.C. Gazzadi, S3 (INFM-CNR), Modena. Artwork: Lucia Covi)

Nano-Explosions - Color-enhanced scanning electron micrograph of an overflowed electrodeposited magnetic nanowire array (CoFeB), where the template has been subsequently completely etched. It's a reminder that nanoscale research can have unpredicted consequences at a high level. (Image: Fanny Beron, École Polytechnique de Montréal, Canada)


Nano PacMan, self-illuminating flowers

Nano PacMan made of copper oxide. Scanning electron microscope image of a copper oxide cluster, 3.5 microns in diameter, prepared by evaporation and condensation over an alumina substrate. The smiley nose and eye are present in the original SEM image, which has only been color-enhanced. (Image: Elisabetta Comini, University of Brescia, Italy)

The imaged object is a single crystalline diamond grain that is anisotropically etched by hot spheres of molten nickel (red). Self-organized nickel particles are obtained by sintering a thin Ni film (100 nm) that is evaporated on a polished diamond substrate. Self-organisation and etching are conducted by the following annealing procedure: 1000°C in 500 mbar H2, 24 h. (Image: Waldemar Smirnov, Fraunhofer Institut Angewandte Festkörperphysik, Germany)