What is Nanoscience and Nanotechnology

    Father of nanotechnology, physicist Sir Richard Feynman, on the 29th of December during the year 1959, at California Institute of Technology, in his talk entitled ‘There’s plenty of room at the bottom’, described nanoscience long before the term was coined. He described it as the ability to manipulate and control small individual atoms and molecules. Later, Norio Taniguchi coined the term ‘nanotechnology’. The study and application of extremely small things which can be used across other disciplines, such as chemistry, biology, physics, materials science, engineering etc. fall under the scope of nanoscience and nanotechnology.

    In other words, nanotech can also be defined as the science, engineering, and technology conducted at the nanoscale level (about 1 to 100 nanometers). Although nanoscience and nanotechnology are modern terms, nanoscale materials were used for centuries. For example, the stained glass windows present in medieval churches exhibit a variety of colors due to the alternate-sized gold and silver particles. Back then, the artists were not aware that the process they had used created these beautiful works of art and actually led to changes in the composition of the materials they were working with. Other examples include – the single strand of DNA is about three nanometers wide, the scales on a Morpho butterfly’s wings contain nanostructures that change the mode of light wave interaction with each other giving the wings brilliant metallic blue and green hues, peacock feathers and soap bubbles also get their iridescent coloration from light interacting with the nanostructures .

    The scientists and engineers today are finding a variety of new and innovative methods to improve the already existing nanotechnology and to discover new products for the better application. Scientists have also created nanostructures in laboratories that mimic the naturally existing nanotech phenomenon. Scientists have used electron beams to manufacture nanoparticles onto solid surfaces, on liquids, by making chemicals at liquid and gaseous phase to react and generate nanofibres, nanocrystals etc. They are also learning to create three-dimensional structures of the same. Nano Electro Mechanical Systems or NEMS can be used to manufacture devices that could be used as microscopic robots to carry out tasks that are too small for human beings to do for themselves and for others. For example, doctors could use NEMS to carry out surgery on a single cell or act as mechanical actuators to move around individual molecules.

    Stain-resistant fabrics inspired by the nanoscale feature found on lotus plants is already a proof that nanoscience has started impacting our lives in a positive way. Also, the hard disks of computers which store information on magnetic strips are just 20 nanometers thick. Scientists and engineers from many disciplines including physics, chemistry, biology, but not limited to materials science, etc use nanoscience principles for advanced applications in energy, medicine, information storage, computing and elsewhere. Even though nanoscience and nanotechnology both deals with the research carried out on the same material still there are a number of differences between them.

    Nanotechnology is used for the manufacture of various products by manipulating and utilizing the nanoscale objects whereas nanoscience involves the study of the behavior of nanoscale materials and various other issues related to them. Nanotechnology is the field which uses the knowledge of nanoscience and then applies it in various areas whereas nanoscience involves only the study and observations of such nanomaterials. Scientists currently debate the future implications of nanotechnology as it could be both, a boon and a bane for the modern world. Many new products with a wide range of applications, such as nanomedicine, nanoelectronics, biomaterial energy production, consumer-friendly products, etc. can be created with the help of nanotechnology. On the other hand, nanotechnology also raises many concerns about the toxicity and impact of nanomaterials on the environment, etc. Thus, nanotechnology and nanoscience are two interlinked disciplines which give a better scope for future as research in this area will be fruitful as long as all the side effects are less harmful and all ethical principles are obeyed.