What is nanotechnology?
Broadly speaking, nanotechnology is the manipulation and manufacture of materials and artifacts on an atomic or molecular scale , that is, nanometric. It is a very broad field of research and applications still under consolidation.
Nanotechnolegy involves subatomic matter , as well as the specific knowledge of scientific disciplines such as organic chemistry, molecular biology, semiconductors, microfabrication and surface science , among others.
Simply put, nanotechnology starts from the idea of building microscopic machines with which in turn produce novel materials, with a unique and particular molecular configuration.
However, the nature of many of these “machines” is not similar to those we use in our day to day, but may well consist of genetically “reprogrammed” viruses and other biotechnological means. Consequently, this technology is an infinite source of possibilities and, of course, dangers.
In addition, nanomaterials have been built through nanotechnology , which are non-existent elements in nature and with amazing properties. They were created from the modification of the molecules of the existing materials.
Thus, a gigantic field of research has been opened with virtually infinite applications, which are still under definition and experimentation. Nanotechnology promises to bring a new industrial and scientific-technological revolution.
In 1959, the possibility of nanotechnology and nanoscience was discussed for the first time . The first to refer to them was a Nobel Prize in Physics (1965), the American Richard Feynman (1918-1988), during his speech at Caltech (California, USA), in which he theorized about the synthesis by direct manipulation of atoms .
However, the term “nanotechnology” was coined in 1974 by the Japanese Norio Taniguchi (1912-1999). Since then, many have been those who have dreamed or theorized with the possibility of such advanced machines and materials.
For example, the American engineer Kim Eric Drexler (1955-) participated in the popularization of the term and this type of research, being largely responsible for the formal start of the field of study of nanotechnology in the 1980s . This, in addition, responds to the advances of the time in microscopy and the discovery of fullerenes in 1985.
From the year 2000 nanomaterials began to be used industrially . In response, the governments of the world began to invest huge sums in nanotechnology research and development.
His applications to the field of biochemistry , medicine and genetic engineering became apparent shortly after. Nowadays it is one of the scientific fields of greatest validity and demand even in countries of the so-called Third World.
What is nanotechnology for?
In basic terms, nanotechnology is a type of engineering of materials at an atomic or molecular scale. That means that it allows matter to be manipulated on an infinitely small scale , between 1 and 100 nanometers, that is, roughly between the size of a DNA molecule (2 nm) and a bacterium of the Mycoplasma genus (200 nm).
Therefore, the utilities of nanotechnology are virtually endless : from the intervention of the chemical composition of living beings , thus allowing the modification of the DNA of microscopic living beings and “programming” to carry out certain biochemical tasks, to the manufacture of novel materials and of unique properties, called nanomaterials.
Some of the current applications of nanotechnology have to do with:
- Textile industry : the creation of intelligent fabrics, capable of pre-programmed behaviors in chips or other electronic instruments, thus being able to be self-cleaning, stain repellent or changing color and temperature .
- Agricultural design : elaboration of pesticides , pesticides and fertilizers of controlled biochemistry that allow soil improvement , as well as nanosensors for groundwater detection, nutrient concentration, etc.
- Livestock support : manufacturing through vaccine and drug nanoparticles to take care of the health of cattle, or nanosensors capable of alerting the presence of diseases, parasites , etc.
- Food industry : in this area are developed from food sensors, that is, elements that can verify the viability of food , to nanoenvases for it, specially designed to retard the natural process of food breakdown.
- Nanopharmaceuticals : this is a first generation of pharmacological products designed with nanosystems, capable of efficiently and specifically distributing the active compounds of medicines, obtaining better and faster results and minimizing collateral damage.
On the other hand, the industry sees as future fields of research the following:
- Nanoinformatics , the design of computerized systems of enormous power and speed through nanosystems.
- Nanothermology , application of nanomachines to efficiently and quickly regulate the local temperature.
- Nanoenergies , which could well be efficient, safe and with low environmental impact , as a solution to the energy crisis with which the 21st century begins.
- Environmental solutions , such as nanotechnological systems for the disposal of hazardous waste or garbage disposal.
A couple of examples of the current nanotechnological application to human problems are the following:
- Bactericidal black silicon . Australian and Spanish scientists announced the creation of a material known as “black silicon”, whose molecular composition prevents, without the need for added products, the proliferation of numerous species of gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria, in addition to decreasing the effectiveness of certain types of endospores.
- Nanosurgery using a robot . The Swiss ETH Zürich laboratory is preparing to test its first magnetically guided microrobot, known as OctoMag, with which it is hoped to be able to perform microsurgery without opening the patient, simply by injecting it into the body using a small needle. Similar models of micropumps have also been tested in the US, which release drugs into the eye when necessary.
Nanotechnology in medicine
The promises of nanotechnology for the advancement of medicine are, at least, amazing. Above we gave a couple of examples of this, but much remains to be discovered, such as:
- Nanotreatments for incurable diseases . Nanotechnological solutions to cancer, HIV / AIDS or Alzheimer’s disease could come from biochemical robots injected into the human body.
- Nanotechnological slowdown of aging . Someday we could, through nanoparticles, combat aging at a molecular level and further extend our life expectancy, delaying senility.
- Nanovacunas . Disease protection systems based on the introduction of nanosystems to the body, which would be responsible for assisting the immune system in the fight against all kinds of new diseases.
- Genetic reprogramming . Through nanorobots it would be possible to modify our DNA and gradually eliminate genes that carry congenital diseases, deficiencies and other diseases. This would improve the quality of life of the species in general. This, of course, also requires rethinking the moral laws of science to a certain level.
Nanotechnology and Biotechnology
Biotechnology is the application of technological solutions to problems of a biological nature . It acquires a whole new level thanks to the introduction of nanosciences.
The possibility of programming or reprogramming living beings through the nanotechnological intervention of DNA could allow us to lead life towards more convenient paths. However, the combination of biotechnology and nanotechnology will involve significant ethical and biological risks .
Humanity knows what happens when it tries to play God. For example, the production of more dairy cows with more meat, crops resistant to pests, etc., should always go hand in hand with reflection on our place in the natural order of the world.