Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology or nanotech in short, is the technology that involves the manipulation of matter on atomic, molecular and supramolecular scales. This includes particles of a scale 1 to 100 nanometers.

As an emerging field of science and technology, it is important to have a basic understanding of nanotechnology and its applications. For the IAS exam, you should also be aware of Indian developments in this field.

Nanotechnology Origins

The concept behind this principle originated in a talk entitled, “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom” by physicist Richard Feynman in 1959. The term nanotechnology was actually coined by Professor Norio Taniguchi. In 1981, the scanning tunneling microscope was invented which made it possible to “see” individual atoms. This, and the invention of the atomic force microscope (AFM) made it possible for nanotechnology to become reality. Nanotechnology has come a long way since then and now affects many industries. It is an interdisciplinary field converging many streams of engineering and science.

What is nanotechnology used for?

Nanotechnology is used in various fields today. Some of the uses of nanotechnology are discussed below.

Electronics

  • Nano-RAM: It is a non-volatile RAM (Random Access Memory) based on carbon nanotubes deposited on a chip-like substrate. Its small size permits very high density memories.
  • Nano optomechanical SRAM (Static RAM): This shows faster read/write time as compared to a MEMS memory. Also, the processes take place without interference which further reduces time when compared to a traditional electrical enabled SRAM.

Healthcare and Medicine

  • Nanotech detectors for heart attack
  • Nanochips to check plaque in arteries
  • Nanocarriers for eye surgery, chemotherapy, etc.
  • Diabetic pads for regulating blood sugar levels
  • Nanoparticles for drug delivery to the brain – for therapeutic treatment of neurological disorders
  • Nanosponges – are polymer nanoparticles coated with a red blood cell membrane, can be used for absorbing toxins and removing them from the bloodstream
  • NanoFlares – used for detection of cancer cells in the bloodstream
  • Nanopores – use in making DNA sequencing more efficient

Energy

  • Solar paints or photovoltaic paints – can replace solar panels. Applying solar paints to any surface will enable it to capture energy from the sun and transform it into electricity. This can be used in houses and cars.
  • Wind power generations – nanogenerators – these are flexible thin sheets which when bent can generate potential power.
  • Nanobatteries – these are used to help rechargeable lithium ion batteries last longer.

Agriculture and Food

  • Nanofertilisers
  • Hybrid polymers are used in packaging and to reduce spoilage
  • Sensors for food-borne pathogens
  • Nanoemulsions – to reduce bacteria on produce
  • Nanoparticles based on titanium dioxide – used as antimicrobial agents

Nanotechnology in India

Research and work on nanotechnology in India started in 2001 with the formation of the NanoScience and Technology Initiative with an initial funding of Rs. 60 crores. In 2007, the GOI launched a 5-year program called Nano Mission. It had a wider scope of objectives and much larger funding. Fields involved in the mission were: basic research in nanotechnology, infrastructure development, human resources development and global collaboration. Many institutions and departments were roped in for the work such as Department of IT, DRDO, Department of Biotechnology, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), etc. In both IIT Bombay and IISC Bangalore, National Centers for Nanofabrication and Nanoelectronics were established.

Results of these initiatives

  • India has published over 23000 papers in nanoscience.
  • India ranked 3rd in papers published in 2013 behind only the USA and China.
  • There have been many patent applications in this field.

Concerns

  • India spends only a fraction of the amount spent by countries such as the USA, China, Japan, etc. on nanotechnology.
  • The quality of research is also to be improved significantly. Only 16% of the papers from India figured in the top 1% publications in 2011.
  • Only 0.2% of the patents filed in the US Patent Office is from India in this field.
  • There are very few students who take up this field.
  • Although the target number of PhDs in nanotechnology is 10000 per year by the MInistry of HRD, the current number is just 150 per annum.
  • The contribution of the private sector is minimal in this domain. Even though there is a lot of potential, the private sector is yet to show tremendous enthusiasm.
    • Scope for potential:
      1. A team from IIT Madras used nanotechnology to decontaminate arsenic from water.
      2. A team from IIT Delhi has engineered a self-cleaning technology to be used in the textile industry.

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