Why Nanotechnology is so important

I have been aware about the concept of “nanotechnology” but I’ve never been sure what it was all about and how it benefits us both economically and technologically. I remember Ms. Jordan bringing up something about nanotechnology, but I was never quite sure what it really is. To me, it sounded very interesting and so I decided to find out more about it and perhaps share it with others who are at the same boat as me. I do know that nano means a billionth of a certain unit. As I recall from my physics classes, nanosecond simply means a billionth of a second, and a nano meter means a billionth of a meter. Nanotechnology involves dealing with or creating technology at the nanoscale. This means that scientists can build tools almost at an atomic level. But why are scientists building such small tools? Some particles that are not conductors on a “macro-scale” can actually be conductors at their “micro-scale.” This implies that nanotechnology help electronic developers create lighter and faster devices. The particles that have been widely used in nanotechnology are the carbon nanotubes. When we studied Periodicity in Chemistry, we learned that carbons form strong covalent bonds and that the delocalized electrons allow them to conduct electricity. Nanotubes, we can say, are the “cousins” of the buckyball or the fullerenes. Imagine obtaining a layer of graphite and rolling it into a cylinder. You have created a nanotube!

Nanotubes have a width of about 1.3 nanometers (Derry, Clark, Ellis, Jeffrey, & Jordan, 2009), slightly larger than the buckyball which is about 1 nanometer. Other than the fact that they are made of strong covalent bonds, nanotubes can be used in computer chips to spread out the heat created by the silicon chips because of their high thermal conductivity. Nanotubes can also be used for medical purposes. Because of the strong covalent molecules, spinning threads from them is possible. Artificial muscles made from yarn can be woven with nanotubes. These artificial muscles were found to be stronger than normal human muscles in terms of its ability to lift heavy weights. Furthermore, nanotubes have the ability to store energy to power devices. For instance, they can “act as test tubes” for storing the hydrogen in hydrogen fueled cars. It just seems that the possibilities for these nanotubes are pretty much endless!

Remember when we used to have heavier phones and heavier computers? Notice how they’ve all become so much lighter. A great example of this is the Macbook air. Apple has been creating devices that just seem to get lighter and lighter and it is all because of these wonderful nanotubes. Electronic companies are utilizing these nanotubes ,more and more efficiently, as digital storages to build lighter, stronger, and faster devices. This makes devices ever more portable and accessible, which are why technology is such a huge part of our lives today.

In the medical world, scientists are still researching some of the things that nanotubes can contribute to our health and wellbeing. Earlier I’ve mention that nanotubes can be used to create artificial muscles. In the long run, nanotubes also play a role in increasing the human life expectancy. So not only devices get more powerful and strong, but also us humans.

It is important to know that even the most advanced technologies may have drawbacks. Regardless of how amazing this might be, the risks of nanotechnology are not yet fully understood. Some research has found that nanotechnology can be hazardous when exposed (Nano.org, 2012). Earlier I have mentioned that in nanotechnology, some macro particles may be behave or have different properties at the micro scale. This implies that even though nanotechnology has been widely used in devices, it is still working its way through the medical world. We can only hope that the risks are minimal so that it can prosper into our very world of developing high speed, powerful, and efficient technology.

Cites:

Bonsor and Strickland (2007), How Nanotechnology Works. How Stuff Works. Retrieved from http://www.howstuffworks.com/nanotechnology.htm

Saxl (2012), Making the Most of Carbon Nanotubes. Institute of Nanotechnology. Retrieved from http://www.nano.org.uk/nano/nanotubes.php

Derry, L., Clark, F., Ellis, J., Jeffrey, F., & Jordan, C. (2009). Chemistry for use with the IB Diploma Programme Options: Standard and Higher Level. Melbourne, Victoria: Pearson Heinemann.

Image:

Nanotube [image]. (2007). Retrieved from http://images.yourdictionary.com/nanotube

One thought on “Why Nanotechnology is so important

  1. Robots vs. Cancer

    ‘Robots vs. Cancer’-sounds like the title of a rather odd science fiction movie, right? At one point in the past, it might have, but in recent years it has seemed like this battle is ready to take place in real life through nanotechnology. As Vrishti mentioned in her post, nanotechnology has many applications in medicine, which intrigued me somewhat. I did some research, but found this field was even vaster than I had first imagined, and I knew that I couldn’t possibly fit all of it into one post. Since there have been many posts on this blog about cancer this year, I decided to delve further into this specific sub-area. What I found was, quite literally, (almost) beyond imagination.
    It turns out that nanotechnology may someday soon offer a cure for cancer. Last year, a team at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute created a nanobot (based on the workings of human white blood cells) out of DNA strands that appears to be able to carry drugs to its target cancer cells and destroy them with little collateral damage to friendly cells. (Paddock, 2012) This robot, created through a process known as “DNA origami,” (Ghose, 2013) was first designed with a DNA modeling software (Arizona State University, 2013) that is able to understand how DNA base pairs line up and can form the proper helix structure of the resulting figure. The researchers choose to build their robot in the shape of a clam. This ‘clam-bot,’ which will carry a molecule that destroys cancer cells through methods such as causing disruptions in their duplication cycle or forcing them to go through apoptosis (‘programmed cell death’), is locked by two different DNA strands called aptamers. Aptamers work through a ‘lock and key’ model, similar to enzymes. When the aptamers and their specific target molecules (i.e. molecules specific to the surface of cancer cells) meet, the DNA strands unzip themselves, releasing the cancer-killing molecule inside the clam. The double-aptamer lock provides extra precautions that work towards ensuring that none of the body’s properly working cells is harmed in this process. (Hamzelou, 2012)

    Computer Design of DNA Origami Nanobots (© Wyss Institute)

    After working out the specifics on the computer model, the Harvard team created the nanobot in reality in order to test its potential for being used as a treatment. They tested its aptamers’ response to their appropriate ‘key’ molecules, certain proteins that are found on the surface of leukemia cells, and then loaded the bot with a single molecule known to kill them (by interfering with the their cell cycles). Finally, the team released millions of these bots into a mixture of both healthy and cancerous human blood cells. Three days afterwards, they found that approximately half of the leukemia cells had been killed off, with very minimal damage to the healthy human blood cells. The researchers claim that they started with a relatively light dose of the drug, and that a heavier dose would have likely ended up killing more of the cancerous cells in the same amount of time. (Puiu, 2012)

    Basic Visuals of How the Nanobots Work:

    Front view of the nanobot. Inside the dotted rectangle are the two DNA aptamers, which have not been unlocked yet.

    Different types of molecules can be loaded into the nanobot based on the desired effect (e.g. ‘forced apoptosis’).

    Aptamer lock mechanism. The blue represents the aptamer, the yellow a partially complementary strand, and the red dot the molecule that signals the aptamer to ‘unzip.’

    The nanobot senses its target molecules, causing the two DNA aptamers unzip. The molecules inside the nanobot are released.

    It’s important to note that this is a relatively new process, and, while tests on mice have been approved, no human has yet been tested on. (Freeman and Gores, 2012) It is often the case in science that new, promising theories and methods that work in small scale tests may, for one reason or another, not work as efficiently when taken to full scale and many of these end up being scrapped (a personal observation of mine is that while media tends to hype up potential cures, the majority of the time they do not make much comment on that potential cure afterwards, implying that that it did not work out).
    There are also issues concerning exactly how the DNA nanobot will react with complete living organisms. DNA is a biodegradable material, and so scientists are not concerned about how the body will remove the nanobot from its system. (Katsnelson, 2012) However, they are concerned about when the nanobot will be removed. If the liver quickly clears out the nanobots or they have their structures destroyed by nucleases (enzymes that “chew up stray bits of DNA”), the cell-destroying chemical could be released into the bloodstream with untold effects. While this process could be delayed by coating the nanobot with substances such as polyethylene glycol, there is still much uncertainty as to how the human body will react to the nanobot and whether or not it will work as expected in that kind of environment. (Valigra, 2012) Thus, while this research is certainly ground-breaking and may open the roads to further scientific development, like that of artificial immune systems (or another form of significant immune system aid) (Paddock, 2012), it is important not to get over-excited until conclusive evidence of successful human testing arrives. If it does, then the cure to many of today’s killer human diseases could be just around the corner.

    References:
    Arizona State University. (21st March 2013). DNA origami: Team develops
    innovative twists to DNA nanotechnology (w/Video). Retrieved from http://phys.org/news/2013-03-team-dna-nanotechnology.html
    Freeman, K. (Writer), & Gores, L. (Host). (2012, February 5). ‘DNA Origami’
    Nanobots Could Find and Destroy Cancer Cells [VIDEO]. Retrieved from http://mashable.com/2012/02/20/dna-origami-nanorobots/
    Ghose, T. (21st March 2013). DNA Origami: the shape of things to come. Science
    on NBC News. Retrieved from http://science.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/03/21/17405032-dna-origami-the-shape-of-things-to-come?lite
    Hamzelou, J. (16th February 2012). DNA origami nanobot takes drug directly to
    cancer cell). New Scientist. Retrieved from http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn21484-dna-origami-nanorobot-takes-drug-direct-to-cancer-cell.html
    Katsnelson, A. (16th February 2012). DNA Robot could kill cancer cells. Nature.
    Retrieved from http://www.nature.com/news/dna-robot-could-kill-cancer-cells-1.10047
    Paddock, C. (20th February 2012). “DNA Origami” Robots Target Cancer Cells.
    Medical News Today. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/241875.php
    Puiu, T. (16th February 2012). Nanobots made out of DNA seek and kill cancer
    cells. Retrieved from http://www.zmescience.com/medicine/nanobots-dna-origami-seek-kill-cancer-cells-32143/
    Valigra, L. (16th February 2012). Harvard DNA Robot may find, kill cancer cells.
    Boston Business Journal. Retrieved from http://www.bizjournals.com/boston/blog/mass-high-tech/2012/02/harvard-dna-nanorobot-may-find-kill-cancer.html?page=all

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