Nanotechnology: what is it?

Nanotechnology and nanoscience are the study, fabrication, and manipulation of material structures, devices, and systems on a scale of less than about 40 nanometers.

Nanotechnologies receive huge investment budgets in research and development every year. It is therefore a fast growing sector. Dominique Vinck, sociologist of science and innovation, talks about the nanotechnology revolution. Futura-Sciences

Nanosciences and nanotechnologies are at the crossroads of several scientific disciplines such as electronics, mechanics, chemistry, optics and biology, which manipulate objects in the nanometer range.

One of the major objectives of nanotechnology is to create nanomachines.

What is nanotechnology?

Nanotechnology or nanoscience is concerned with materials that have a scale of one nanometer, or one billionth of a meter. The properties of nanomaterials change in relation to their micro or macro size.

It is also called nanoscience.

Nanotechnology is synonymous with nanoscience. It refers to the set of technologies and sciences dealing with materials that have the nanometer, or one billionth of a meter, in common. The dimensions between 1 and 100 nanometers or nm, are not visible to the naked eye. Nanotechnology covers a wide range of scientific fields and works on nanomaterials, such as a virus that measures 10 to 100 nm. The diameter of a human hair, which has a dimension of 70,000 to 80,000 nm, is a giant. The use of nanoparticles requires the use of specially dedicated electron microscopes.
More reactive materials

Materials have different properties at the nanometric scale than at the micro or macro dimensions. They are :

  • more reactive,
  • lighter,
  • more resistant : a carbon nanotube is stronger than a steel tube,
  • more efficient than copper wires to transport electricity.

How does nanotechnology work?

Nanoscience intentionally manufactures nanomaterials for research and production purposes. However, they present health risks.

The manufacture of nanoparticles

There are several types of nanoparticles:

  • natural nanoparticles such as viruses,
  • nanoparticles that are by-products of production processes, such as exhaust gases
  • nanoparticles intentionally manufactured in the context of nanotechnologies.

Nanosciences manufacture artificial nanoparticles in several ways:

  • by gradually shrinking the particles,
  • by building them atom by atom,
  • by self-assembly.

A risky science?

The effects of nanoparticles on health are even less known because each one is unique. Nevertheless, we can observe :

  • possible inflammatory or neuro-immune reactions, as tested on rats
  • damage to lung tissue and cells in vitro
  • dangerous cardiovascular consequences, as demonstrated by experiments on mice.

Nanoparticles enter the body through the skin, inhalation and the digestive system.
What is nanotechnology used for?

Nanotechnology is applied to various materials as long as they are of nanometric size. The list we provide here is not exhaustive:
Aviation and aeronautics

Nanosciences present the interest to manufacture stronger and lighter parts, able to facilitate the movement in the air or even the exit of the atmosphere.

Medicine and health

Nanobiology and nanomedicine facilitate the fight against cancer, produce intelligent tissues with sensors to accelerate the healing process, more effective dressings, etc. They also contribute to improving imaging and the quality of life of patients. They also contribute to improving medical imaging.

Indirectly, nanotechnologies can improve water filtration, agricultural production, computer screens, eyeglasses, etc.
The automobile

Nanosciences are transforming batteries, sensors, safety systems, etc.