Nanotechnology scientific impact
While there is a commonly held belief that nanotechnology is a futuristic science with applications 25 years in the future and beyond, nanotechnology is anything but science fiction. In the last years over a dozen Nobel prizes have been awarded in nanotechnology, from the development of the scanning probe microscope (SPM), to the discovery of fullerenes. Almost every university in the world has a nanotechnology department, or is expecting the funds to create one.
Nanotechnology offers opportunities in creating new features and functions and is already providing the solutions to many long-standing medical, social and environmental problems. Because of its potential, nanotechnology is of global interest, attracting more public funding than any other area of technology.
There is an unprecedented multidisciplinary convergence of scientists dedicated to the study of a world so small, we cannot see it - even with a light microscope. That world is the field of nanotechnology, the realm of atoms and nanostructures, something so new; no one is really sure what will come of it.
One of the exciting and challenging aspects of the nanoscale is the role that quantum mechanics plays in it. The rules of quantum mechanics are very different from those used in classical physics, which means that the behavior of substances at the nanoscale can sometimes contradict common sense by behaving erratically. You cannot walk up to a wall and immediately teleport to the other side of it, but at the nanoscale an electron can - it's called electron tunneling. Substances that are insulators, meaning they cannot carry an electric current, in bulk form might become semiconductors when reduced to the nanoscale. Melting points can change due to an increase in surface area. Much of nanoscience requires that you forget what you know and start learning all over again.
Nanotech in medicine and public health
Nanotechnology health issues
The health impact of nanotechnology are the possible effects that the use of nanotechnological materials and devices will have on human health. As nanotechnology is an emerging field, there is great debate regarding to what extent nanotechnology will benefit or pose risks for human health. Nanotechnology's health impact can be split into two distinct aspects: the potential to cure diseases with the use of medical applications with nanotechnological innovations and the potential health hazards posed by exposure to nanomaterials.
Impact of Nanotechnology on Drug Delivery
The emergence of nanotechnology platforms can enable development and commercialization of entirely new classes of bioactive macromolecules that need precise intracellular delivery for bioactivity. While both organic and inorganic technologies are under development, controlled-release polymer technologies and liposomes will likely continue to have the greatest clinical impact for the near future.
Health and safety impact from nanoparticles
The presence of nanomaterials (materials that contain nanoparticles) is not in itself a threat. In addressing the health and environmental impact of nanomaterials we need to differentiate between two types of nanostructures:
- "Fixed" nano-particles: Nanocomposites, nanostructured surfaces and nanocomponents (electronic, optical, sensors etc.), where nanoscale particles are incorporated into a substance, material or device);
- "Free" nanoparticles: those where at some stage in production or use individual nanoparticles of a substance are present. There seems to be consensus that, although one should be aware of materials containing fixed nanoparticles, the immediate concern is with free nanoparticles.
Nanotoxicology is the field, which studies the potential health risks derived from the use of nanomaterials. The behavior of nanoparticles is a function of their size, shape and surface reactivity with the surrounding tissue. Apart from what happens if non-degradable or slowly degradable nanoparticles accumulate in organs, another concern is their potential interaction with biological processes inside the body: because of their large surface, nanoparticles on exposure to tissue and fluids will immediately adsorb onto their surface some of the macromolecules they encounter.
Nanopollution is a generic name for all waste generated by nanodevices or during the nanomaterials manufacturing process. It can float in the air and might easily penetrate animal and plant cells causing unknown effects. To properly assess the health hazards of engineered nanoparticles the whole life cycle of these particles needs to be evaluated, including their fabrication, storage and distribution, application and potential abuse, and disposal.
The impact on humans or the environment may vary at different stages of the life cycle. Some have raised concerns about nanopollution, and argued that it is not currently possible to "precisely predict or control the ecological impacts of the release of these nanoproducts into the environment."
Nanotechnology industrial impact
It is increasingly common to hear people referring to `the nanotechnology industry', just like the software or mobile phone industries, but does such a thing really exist? Many of the companies working with nanotechnology are simply applying our knowledge of the nanoscale to existing industries.
Nanotechnology is very diverse, ranging from extensions of conventional device physics to completely new approaches based upon molecular self-assembly, from developing new materials with dimensions on the nanoscale to investigating whether we can directly control matter on the atomic scale.
There are many examples of the application of nanotechnology from the simple to the complex. For example, there are nano coatings which can repel dirt and reduce the need for harmful cleaning agents, or prevent the spread of hospital-borne infections. New-generation hip implants can be made more 'body friendly' because they have a nanoscale topography that encourages acceptance by the cells in their vicinity. All of these are technology-based industries, maybe not new ones, but industries with multi-billion dollar markets.
Corporations are already taking out broad-ranging patents on nanoscale discoveries and inventions. For example, two corporations, NEC and IBM, hold the basic patents on carbon nanotubes, one of the current cornerstones of nanotechnology. Carbon nanotubes are poised to become a major traded commodity with the potential to replace major conventional raw materials.
In fact, nanotechnology is an enabling technology rather than an industry in its own right. Rather, nanotechnology is a fundamental understanding of how nature works at the atomic scale. New industries will be generated because of this understanding, just as the understanding of how electrons can be moved in a conductor by applying a potential difference led to electric lighting, the telephone, computing, the internet and many other industries, none of which would have been possible without it.
Nanotechnology social impact
Some have speculated that people who work in unskilled labor jobs for a livelihood may become the first human workers to be displaced by the sistematic use of nanotechnology in the workplace, noting that layoffs often affect the jobs based around the lowest technology level before attacking jobs with the highest technology level possible. It has also been speculated that nanotechnology may give rise to nanofactories, which may have superior capabilities to conventional factories due to their small carbon footprint.
The miniaturization and transformation of the conventional factory into the nanofactory may not interfere with their ability to deliver a high quality product; the product may be of even greater quality due to the lack of human errors in the production stages. Nanofactory systems may use atomic precision and contribute to making superior quality products that the "bulk chemistry" method used in 20th century and early 21st currently cannot produce. These advances might shift the computerized workforce in an even more complex direction, requiring skills in genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics.
Nanotechnology political impact
Nanotechnology may provide new solutions for the millions of people in developing countries who lack access to basic services, such as safe water, reliable energy, health care, and education. Potential opportunities of nanotechnology to help address critical international development priorities include improved water purification systems, energy systems, medicine and pharmaceuticals, food production and nutrition, and information and communications technologies.
Protection of the environment, human health and worker safety in developing countries often suffers from a combination of factors that can include but are not limited to lack of robust environmental, human health, and worker safety regulations. The majority of nanotechnology research and development, as are the patents for nanomaterials and products - is concentrated in developed countries (including the United States, Japan, Germany, Canada and France). Producers in developing countries could also be disadvantaged by the replacement of natural products (including rubber, cotton, coffee and tea) by developments in nanotechnology. These natural products are important export crops for developing countries, and only source of income for a large majority of the population.