Nanotechnology: The Anticipated future

”Why can’t we right all the 24 volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica on the head of a pin?”, asked Richard Feynman.

Science has developed since the birth of the universe, but we slowly knew them after the birth of humans, birth of famous scientists, thinkers, and many more. But, there is a difference. Science of today has more difference than science of yesterday, and science of yesterday has more difference  than science of day before yesterday. Like that, science has changed so much in the past that we are able to enjoy the technology that we have today. Science has produced so many thinkers that they are able to anticipate the future which awaits for the human beings and of course, our planet Earth. Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking were two great examples of thinkers, who were able to ‘simulate’ the future in their minds themselves. What technology awaits for us, then, in the future, you might ask? Yes, the future technology: Nano technology.

Seems weird and interesting at the same time, right? Nano technology is the destined technology for us in the future, and many of you might have guessed the basics of nano technology by the name itself: The word ‘nano’ means anything small, even smaller than micrometers. It is just the use and control of tiny matter at the nano-scale, and these particles or matter at the nano scale are referred to as ‘nano particles’. Nano technology is the destined future, but why? Let’s answer all your questions in this wonderful article of nano technology!(Though the article is not nano-sized).

The thought and the spark on the discovery of nano technology was provided by two great scientists of the Einstein-ic times, the 2000’s,  Richard Fenyman(Who said that line at the first), and Eric Drexler, who was the ‘founding father of nanotechnology'(For this reason, he was also known as ‘Mr Nano’). They both gave the foundation by publishing famous books on nano tech which are referred even today! Richard Fenyman speculated that materials could be miniaturized so that huge amounts of information could be stored in a very small space, and even machinery, when miniaturized, could be more small and compact too. These thoughts aroused the curiosity of many scientists, even great ones too, and they too began to work on it, and they began creating milestones in the field of nano technology, which we are going to see it next.

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Richard Feynman gave a lecture on nanotechnology named ‘There is Plenty Of Room In The Bottom’.
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Eric Drexler published a book called ‘Engines of Creation’ , which paved the way for scientists to study nanotechnology.

Some important milestones in nanotechnology:

  1. The carbon nanotube

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The carbon nanotube is the first and the most important invention in nano technology. It was discovered by a Japanese physicist Sumio Iijima. The carbon nanotube is also an another allotrope of carbon(An allotrope is any other physical form of any element which has the same chemical characteristics as the original element. Carbon’s two other allotropes are graphite and diamond.). Carbon nanotube is highly compact and dense, and can pack 100 times more punch than steel.

Currently, the most popular use for carbon nanotubes is in structural reinforcement. The high strength and low weight of CNT(I’m  gonna call them that) combined with their flexibility allow for them to be added to other materials like rebar to concrete. Advances are being made using carbon nanotubes to extract power from sunlight and even as a heat source. Carbon nanotubes are unique in that they are thermally conductive along their length but not across the tube itself. This lets carbon nanotubes play a role on both sides of thermal insulation. CNT are also highly electrically conductive, which could potentially make for an extremely cost effective replacement for metal wires. The semiconducting properties of CNT make them candidates for the next generation of computer chips. Other applications under investigation are their use as chemical carriers for pharmaceutical applications. Specific drugs can be attached to CNT that can target and attack only certain types of cells, including cancer cells, for example.

2. The Bucky-ball

Yes, you read it right. It’s a Bucky-ball. It’s named so because its structure is very, very similar to the traditional soccer ball.

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The invention of this bucky-ball is very, very important because—guess? It’s an another allotrope of carbon! The chemical name of it is Buckminsterfullerene, simply called fullerene, and it was discovered by scientists Richard E Smalley, and Robert F Curl Jr and Sir Harold W. Kroto.

A Buckminsterfullerene belongs to a family of molecules called fullerenes, which are a family of highly symmetrical carbon caged molecules made up of 60 carbon atoms, C60 . This produces a structure containing 60 chemically equivalent vertices that are connected by 32 faces, 12 of which are pentagonal and 20 hexagonal, otherwise known as a soccer ball . This molecule was named after a famous architect R Buckminster Fuller, who founded the geodesic dome.

The properties of the buckyball is just amazing and seems more amazing to football fans and players! First, being a ball, they can bounce(That’s obvious). Secondly, they can return to their original shape when squeezed, because of their excellent elasticity. Unlike the traditional soccer ball, fortunately for those people who want unlimited football gaming, these little chaps do not need pumping at all!

The invention of the bucky ball has created a lot of excitement, but still, it has not been implemented, and is not released commercially in the markets. But, these bucky balls are nano-sized that we can’t play with them  unless we are nano-sized, unfortunately.


Nanotechnology focuses on objects which are nano sized, but with normal compound microscopes, we cannot view them. That’s why two microscopes, the scanning tunneling microscope(STM) and the atomic force microscope(AFM), were invented.

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Gerd Binnig won a Nobel Prize for his work.
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Heinrich Rohrer won a Nobel Prize for his work.

The scanning tunneling microscope was the first microscope invented to view objects on the nano scale. It was invented in the late 20th century by two European scientists: German-born physicist Gerd Bennig and Swiss physicist Heinrich Rohrer(pictures given above.). Its resolution is so great that it can resolve a single atom.(While the compound microscope cannot even view an organism’s cell properly). Its principle is based on the tunneling of electrons between the sharp tip of the probe(A part of the microscope where it examines the sample) and the surface of the sample under study.

Though these geeky scientists built the strong microscope, Don Eigler, stole the idea, but developed the microscope and was the first to manipulate atoms using his newly developed scanning tunneling microscope.

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A scanning tunneling microscope needs high volts of electric current to magnify. The tip tunnels electrons to the surface of the sample, thereby sending the image on the television
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This is a real scanning tunneling microscope which was built by the IBM company.

The first atomic force microscope(AFM) was again invented by that geeky scientist Gerb Binnig, and two others, Calvin Quate and Christoph Gerber. It is actually a type of high resolution scanning tunneling microscope that has a resolution that you can measure in fractions of a nano meter(That’s less than a nano meter!).

The AFM ‘feels’ the atoms rather than ‘sees’ them. The AFM, thus, is one of the foremost tools for imaging, measuring, and manipulating at the nano scale. Its versatility led to an explosion of later scientists using the instrument.

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The AFM uses a strong laser with a lower wavelength to view the sample. The process is very complex to understand.

If you think that nanotechnology is a recent phenomenon, you are completely wrong. From the beginning of the Earth to the birth of humans, nano particles were being used or were there.

Since early times, humans have been producing carbon-based nanoparticles. The smoke and soot from the campfires of our ancestors contained nanoparticles that are today known as fullerenes and carbon nanotube. Nanoparticles were used by artisans as far as the ninth century in Mesopotamia for generating a glittering effect on the surface of pots. Later, in the 11th to 13th centuries AD, the exceptional strength, remarkable sharpness, and beautiful patterns on the surface of the Damascus steel sword blades used by Saladin’s (Who was a famous sultan of egypt)troops may have been due to the prescence of carbon nanotubes in the steel used.

We have learnt about nano technology and its advantages and history. If nanotechnology is the destined future, what are the applications where we can use nanotechnology? Virtually in every facet of our life!

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Yes, as you can see, it is used in electronics to medicine, from cosmetics to optics! But, we are going to mainly discuss on nanoelectronics and nano-biotechnology and nanorobotics.

  1. Nanoelectronics

Yes, nanoelectronics, not microelectronics. As you can see in the name itself, nanoelectronics deal with smaller particles than microelectronics. It’s a very exciting field that is forecast to influence nearly every facet of our life! The term(obviously) refers to the use of nanotechnology in electric components.

This field covers both devices and materials that have one thing in common–they are unimaginably small. The roots of nano electronics began to develop in the early 1980’s and today, it’s truly a fascinating field that covers designing medical devices to building better batteries.

Nanoelectronic devices are built in such a way that they are nano-sized. Conventional computers with big processors will be replaced with nanocomputers with nano processors that will have higher performance and speed than the conventional computers. I’m ready to be nano-sized now itself(Because I like computers, as you too). The devices using nanoelectronics technology also include solar cells that are highly efficient, and cheaper than the conventional ones. Televisions, LEDs, and computers will also be devices using nanoelectronics.

Nanotechnology will bring significant benefits to the energy sector, especially to energy storage and solar energy. Improved materials efficiency and reduced manufacturing costs are just two of the real economic benefits that nanotechnology already brings to these fields, and these are only the beginning. Battery storage capacity could be extended, while the battery itself way smaller than a regular battery, solar cells could be produced cheaper, lifetime of solar cells and batteries of electric cars could be increased, all thanks to continued development of nanotechnology.

2. Nanotechnology in medicine

Nanotechnology, if applied in medicine, could save millions of lives because of its efficiency and it’s compact too.

It is a boon in cancer treatment. Why? Usually, we depend on chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery, which can carry serious side effects. But, with nanotechnology, treating cancer is just like treating common cold. Cancer-detecting nanoparticles, which are loaded with anti cancer drugs, are let into the body, which treat cancer directly in the body. So, with nanotech, it opens doors of possibility of destroying cancer tumors with minimal damage to healthy tissues and organs.

Nanorobotics is a field where robots, which are nanosized, are used in the field of medicine. They are small enough to enter our bloodstream, and they can be largely used for treating the world’s feared diseases like cancer and AIDS. A nano robot is equipped with drugs that are nanosized and are directly let into the bloodstream so they correctly go to the location of the attack and can easily treat and destroy the disease causing organism or cell. Heart diseases can be easily treated this way.

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A nanorobot resting on a diseased cell.

So, we got to know that nanotechnology will be the ordained future, and will shape the future for future generations. We are lucky that we are the future generation and we get to experience the nano-future. Until then, stay nano and connected!

-Science geek

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