The Pervasive Impact of Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology pulls in information from physics, chemistry, engineering, and biology to study and use materials at the nano level to achieve various results. It will have a significant impact on almost all industries and all areas of society. It turns out that being able to see and work with things on a very small level has some very big ramifications not isolated to one industry or field.

Application of nanotechnology across industries

Nanotechniques can be applied in many different settings and many different applications. It crosses industries, enabling achievements in areas such as manufacturing, medicine, space travel, energy, and the environment. The techniques being developed for creating and manipulating particles at the nano level hold out the hope for curing diseases such as cancer, cleaning our air, and producing cheap energy.

Think of some other scientific disciplines. Medicine pertains only to healthcare; astronomy is lost in the stars; zoologists focus on animals. But nanotechnology doesn’t have that single focus; in that respect, it’s more like physics or chemistry, scientific disciplines whose discoveries can be used in many areas and many industries and with many other sciences.

This range of effect is indicated by the many federal agencies that participate in the National Nanotechnology Initiative. These agencies include the Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Energy, Labor, Transportation, and Treasury, as well as organizations such as the National Institute of Health, Forest Service, NASA, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Some of the agencies participating in the National Nanotechnology Initiative.
Some of the agencies participating in the National Nanotechnology Initiative.

Nano is also used in many commercial settings, many of which you’ll hear about in more detail in subsequent chapters. For example, nano materials are used to

  • Add strength to materials used in products ranging from tennis rackets to windmills

  • Act as catalysts in chemical manufacturing

  • Help absorption of drugs into the body

  • Add stain resistance to fabrics used in clothing

  • Make medical imaging tools such as MRIs function more accurately

  • Improve the efficiency of energy sources such as batteries and fuel cells

  • Purify drinking water and clean up our air

There may even be nanoceramics in your dental implants, taking advantage of the fact that their properties can be adjusted to match the properties of the tissue surrounding them. And just about every electronic gadget you own probably has some type of nanomaterial in it, especially in the chips used in computing devices.

Nanotech is interdisciplinary

If you want to find out whether a field involves various disciplines, check out the university programs offered for those interested in the field. What you’ll find is that nanotechnology is such an interdisciplinary field that many educational programs accept students from a range of disciplines.

Mahbub Uddin and Raj Chodhury, in a conference paper on Nanotechnology Education, make this statement about the challenge of providing nanotechnology education: “Nanotechnology is truly interdisciplinary. An interdisciplinary curriculum that encompasses a broad understanding of basic sciences intertwined with engineering sciences and information sciences pertinent to nanotechnology is essential.”

Various programs at institutions such as Northeastern University, Rice University and Penn State offer courses and degrees in everything from nanomedicine to nanobusiness. These programs are available to students majoring in such disciplines as Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Chemical Engineering, Mechanical/Industrial Engineering, Electrical/Computer Engineering, Pharmaceutical Sciences, Materials Science and Engineering, Integrative Biosciences, and Applied Chemistry.

The Smalley Institute at Rice University.
The Smalley Institute at Rice University.

It’s clear from these examples that preparing students for a career in nanotechnology can involve knowledge of both nanotechnology and the specialty of their choosing.

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