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Nanotechnology Applications: History and Future Development

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Nanotechnology is a branch of quantum chemistry where atoms and molecules are bonded together in certain configurations to change the properties of the material. Nanotechnology has recently been developed and still requires many advancements so it is better understood and can become cost-effective. Currently, Nanotechnology is used to make synthetic fibers to prevent stains, it is used to create the zinc oxide nanocrystals in sunscreen and the silver nanocrystals in bandages that kill bacteria (Nanotechnology). As researchers continue to pursue new breakthroughs, it is also important to understand where nanotechnology began.

History

Nanotechnology first became possible in the 1970’s when a controlled molecular beam was developed by Alfred Cho and John Arthur at Bell Labs. The molecular beam allowed for the placement of single atomic layers. Subsequently, in 1985 the third pure form of carbon after graphite and diamond, called Fullerene was discovered by Robert F. Curl, Jr., Harold W. Kroto, and Richard E. Smalley. Fullerene nicknamed the ‘buckyball’ has the chemical formula of C60 with an atomic appearance similar to that of a soccer ball with an atom at each vertex. This new form of carbon would become important in creating carbon nanotubes. After several years Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer created a scanning tunneling microscope at the IBM labs in Switzerland. The new microscope allowed scientists to precisely place individual atoms as they could now better view them. The scanning tunneling microscope was the first electron microscope, the creation of which won Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer a Nobel prize in 1986 for physics (The Nobel Prize in Physics 1986). These discoveries and inventions led to the current understanding and ability to create modern nanotechnology.

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Current Production Process

The production of nanotechnology can currently only be performed in labs due to quantum effects that occur when structures are only a few atoms apart. This is displayed by gold, which is chemically inert when microscopic, but when the particles are nanoscaled become incredibly reactive and will melt at low temperatures. Therefore, gold demonstrates that material properties are dependent on size as well as the structure of the material. The production process is divided into two stages, the growth stage and the pattern transfer stage.

Growth Stage

Firstly a uniform layer is placed on a substrate that provides structure in one dimension. Following this, a molecular beam is used to place atoms on the substrate in specific patterns, with each layer of atoms having different electrical conductivity characteristics. The atoms then bond on the surface to create an ordered pattern of crystals.

Pattern Transfer Stage

After the defined amount of atoms are deposited on the substrate a radiation sensitive substance called resist is applied to the exposed atoms. A mask is then applied to the resist and a pattern is imprinted into the exposed resist by electrons and photons released by ultraviolet vacuum lights. The image is then transferred to the surface by applying traces of foreign materials to the resist.

As the process is improved and better streamlined, nanotechnology-based devices will be made faster and less expensively, this will allow industry, electronics and medical fields to benefit from the advancements.

The Future of Nanotechnology: Industry

With respect to industry, nanotechnology will create safer and lighter products for the use of workers and consumers. Carbon nanotubes (image right) which are a created by nanotechnology and are incredibly strong yet light and are being researched for use in car and plane frames. Using carbon nanotubes in vehicle frames will allow for stronger and therefore safer vehicles which would also be lighter than if made from steel or aluminum. By having materials specially tailored to the application machining equipment will be made lighter and possibly collapsible. If work equipment is lighter and collapsible it would be more portable which would allow for machines to be moved from factories more easily and portable workshops to be set up at job sites. Within industry nanotechnology will make materials lighter and alter the design constraints.

The Future of Nanotechnology: Electronics Nanotechnology will allow for electronic components to be smaller and more efficient. Transistors are the basis for all electronics and as nanotechnology improves transistors will become more compact (Computer Chip). As transistors become smaller more computing power will be contained in a smaller area making devices such as phones, laptop and even supercomputers exponentially more powerful than is currently possible without increasing size. Electrical conduction through molecules can be used to create more space efficient storage called MRAM 4, which is also non-volatile, so it does not require an electrical current to store information unlike current RAM. Scientists at Rutgers University and Bell Labs have been able to use Nanotechnology to better separate the chemicals in batteries. Since the chemicals are better separated the result will be a battery with a longer life. Advancements in nanotechnology will allow for more efficient and compact electronics.

The Future of Nanotechnology: Medical

Nanotechnology will allow bandages to display information and for drug distribution within the body to become more targeted. Smart bandages which use nanotechnology to read oxygen levels in tissue and change colour depending on the oxygen level. The bandages display green for well-oxygenated areas, yellow in poor areas, orange in worse areas and red if no oxygen is present. These smart bandages will be useful to show if transplants have oxygen and also in other wounds that may suffer from poor oxygen quality. This is a large improvement since testing for oxygen quality is currently only possible by taking blood samples.

Another benefit is that once drugs are able to be made into nanosized particles they will be able to travel the body in search of disease and then specifically attack those cells on a set schedule. This would be a large improvement since it would no longer be required to flood areas of the body autonomously with drugs since the cells would be targeted this would also minimize the collateral damage of healthy cells in the area. Advancements in nanotechnology would allow for smart bandages and more effective drug administration.

Conclusion

Nanotechnology has improved greatly since the early days of the molecular beam in the early 1970’s. Although it still requires improvements to arrange atoms more efficiently. But since nanotechnology shows promise in industry, electronics and medical fields it is being researched and will continue to improve which in turn will improve our daily lives.

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