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The definition of Nanotechnology can be confusing as there are many differences which are due to academic interest or the regulatory context. The United States National Nanotechnology Institute (NNI) referred nanotechnology as the control and understanding of matter at the size of about 1 - 100nanometers [www.nano.gov]. They went further to state that it involves imaging, measuring, modelling and manipulating of matter at this dimension. Siegel et al 1999 defined nanotechnology as the application and development of materials, structures, systems and devices with fundamentally new functions and characteristics which has its size being derived in the range of about 1 - 100nanometers (nm).
Generally nanotechnology deals with the use and production of materials with purposely engineered characteristics close to the atomic or molecular level. Nanotechnology has been used to produce materials and devices with different functions in the fields of physics, medicine and energy production (Buzea et al, 2007). The term originates from “nano” which means dwarf in Greek. One nanometer is equivalent of one billionth (10-9) of a meter, which is about a hundred thousand of human hair! Potential nanotechnology applications are enormous in the next few years, as it could develop very high computing and storage capacities, battery storage, cancer therapies, glass that never needs to be cleaned and clothes that don`t stain. Nonetheless, these benefits can be fully realized if its adverse effects are controlled (Davies, 2006).
Nanotechnology is fairly a new subject but efforts to understand and control its effects have been on-going. As nanotechnology advances and commercial applications multiply, new problems and challenges abound. The property of nanotechnology processes and materials often does not follow the fundamental laws of physics and chemistry, so therefore may exhibit toxic and adverse environmental effects. Because of its potentials, it attracts more funding more than any emerging technology. It is a multidisciplinary area of research as a result it requires team effort. For instance in the development of the new cochlear implant, electronic engineer, biomaterial experts, psychologists and mechanical engineers had to work together to realize this nano-based product.
- NANOMATERIALS - These are subfields that develop material that have distinct features arising from their nanoscale dimensions (Clarkson et al, 2004). Example of such is the carbon nanotubes which is a product of interface and colloid science. Nanomaterial can be used to produce nanomedicine, cheaper solar cells, components of semiconductor nanoparticles used in display technologies.
- BOTTOM-UP APPROACHES - This process arrange smaller components into more complex units. This is employed in DNA construction and other nucleic acids. In chemical sysnthesis, this can be employed to design well-defined shapes such as bis-peptides(Christopher et al, 2006).
- TOP-DOWN APPROACHES - Here smaller devices are derived by using larger ones. Example of this product is the Atomic force microscope
- Functional Approaches involves the development of products with desired properties without regard to how they are assembled.
IMPACT ON BUSINESS AND THE SOCIETY:
The Impact of recent advancements in nanotechnology on business would show that forecasts can be less accurate in predicting the future. Though similar forecasts in other areas of emerging technology such as internet and wireless communication might have been accurate, much of the predictions in nanotechnology are still imaginations yet to be realized. However the potentials of nanotechnology is still promising since if its even half-realized, can still realign the business and economics of the society at structural levels. Nanotechnology can be said to be a disruptive technology, describes it as an innovation that will increase the product or service in such a way that the market does not expect.
If the advancements in nanotechnology reach a critical point in providing innovative breakthroughs in self-assembly, most vertical businesses will be greatly influenced. The supply chains, supportive alliances and channels of distribution will be reshaped. The financial and learning institutions as well as manufacturing industries will be altered. How well we prepare the society in anticipation of this is very important as plans should be made to follow up any marked nanotechnology innovation. Just as computers and internet have become intertwined with the fundamental economic model of any viable economy, nanotechnology will be the emerging technology that shapes tomorrow`s economy. It is imperative to fast track research and development, government investment and widespread cross-industry application (Canton, 1999).
The project on emerging nanotechnologies shows that over 800 nanotech products have been rolled out and new ones made available at the rate of 3 to 4 per week [www.nanotechproject.org]. Most of these products are limited to the application of “1st generation” nanomaterials which include Carbon allotropes used in making directional adhesive material(gecko tape); Titanium dioxide for cosmetics, sunscreen and food products; silver used to produce food packaging, clothing, household appliances and disinfectants.
Manipulating the atomic and molecular arrangement of matter is the basis of nanotechnology and the results has raised concerns about the effects these will have on our society, and plans to control them. For instance is Silver nanoparticles used in making socks that will reduce foot odour, when released in the wash can destroy beneficial bacteria that degrades organic matter. Another malicious nanomaterial is Carbon nanotube, which when exposed to in lethal quantities can cause a form of cancer known as mesothelioma.
There has been concerns that new developments from nanotech could produce undetectable lethal weapons, networked spy camera for use by government and rapid development of weapons fast enough to render arms races unstable. Dangers of nanotechnologies also speculated by The Centre for Responsible Nanotechnology includes potentials to disrupt many aspects of society and politics through accelerated industrial revolution, fuelled by nanotechnology, Economic disruption from an abundance of cheap products, Economic oppression from artificially inflated prices and Attempted relinquishments by outlawing technology.