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Study of materials has been of great concern to humans since the beginning of their existence. New materials with better qualities and longer term of exploitation appeared and accelerated the development of human race. The development of metals and other materials have paralleled the growth and progress of the whole civilizations. Technology on its current level of development has enabled to create things, which once seemed to exist only in science fiction books. The progress in artificial intelligence and molecular physics has produced a new form of science -nanotechnology. Nanotechnology is one of the most promising and ambitious field of science, having a potential to grant humans eternal life, or destroy them completely.

There is no generally accepted definition of nanotechnology, but many definitions share similar features. In broad sense, it refers to the understanding and control of materials at scale of 1 to 100 nanometers, where material can gain unique and enhanced properties. Nanotechnology, as a science, includes a great range of instruments, methods and potential applications.

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Nanoscience and nanotechnology are practically the same notion, but there are some distinctions. Nanoscience is the study that deals with manipulation of materials at atomic and molecular levels, where features of those materials are significantly different from those at a larger level. Nanotechnology is the design, production and usage of devices and systems with the help of manipulations of materials at nanometer scale.

The prefix ‘nano’ comes from the Greek word for dwarf. Almost all measurements in nanoscience are conducted in nanometers (nm). One nanometer is one-billionth part of a meter, or 10–9m. For comparison, a hair has 80,000nm in width, and a blood cell about 7000nm. Nanotechnology is generally concerned with the size range between 100nm and 0.2nm (the atomic level). This particular range allows materials to gain various enhanced properties more successfully than the same materials at a larger level. The change in properties is possible for two leading reasons, which are an enlarged relative surface area, and the dominance of quantum effects. An increase in area causes the same increase in chemical reactivity that makes nanomaterials valuable catalysts to increase the productivity of fuel cells and batteries. When dealing with the size range of less than tens of nanometers, quantum effects can start to play a significant role, and as a result, physical features of materials change significantly. In fact, people have been using some materials with size-dependent for centuries. For instance, particles of gold and silver, which have diameter less than 100 nm, have been used for coloring glass and ceramics at the beginning of the 10th century AD. Changing size of gold nanoparticles enable to give them red, blue or gold coloring. The task for the earliest chemists (or alchemists) was to make all nanoparticles have equal size (and consequently the same color). The production of equal-sized particles is still a hard task for current scientists.

Closer to 100nm width, such effects as surface tension and stickiness become significant. They influence on physical and chemical properties of material. During the manipulations with liquids or gaseous, it is important to take Brownian motion into consideration. It is the random movement of bigger particles and molecules, which are being bombarded by lesser molecules and atoms. As a result of the chaotic movement of particles, it is exceptionally difficult to control and work with specific atoms or molecules in liquids or gases.

Nanoscience deals with different effects on the properties of material. Nanotechnology attempts to use these effects to produce various devices and systems with new properties and functions depending on their size.

In some ways, nanoscience and nanotechnology are not new disciplines. For many decades, a lot of elements and chemical processes have been using features of material on a nanolevel, such as production of polymers, large molecules composed of small nanoscalar units. For more than last 20 years, nanotechnology has been concerned with creating the features on computer chips. There a lot of examples of nanostructures in nature, such as milk (a nanoscale colloid) or nanosized proteins, which are responsible for controlling various biological activities (stretching muscles, freeing energy and restoring cells).

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Nanotechnology is an interdisciplinary study, as it has encouraged the cooperation of scientists in earlier separate fields in order to join knowledge, instruments and techniques. Knowledge of the physic and chemical processes at the level of nanoparticles is important to all scientific areas, from biology to engineering and medicine. Without a doubt, it could be said that collaborative advances in each of these areas towards studying matter at progressively small size ranges has now come to be known as ‘nanotechnology’.

History of Nanotechnology

The conceptual foundations of nanotechnology were first put forward out in 1959 by the scientist Richard Feynman. He gave a revolutionary lecture “There’s plenty of room at the bottom.” In his studies, Feynman discovered the possibility of working with material at the atomic and molecular levels. He imagined the complete Encyclopaedia Britannica engraved on the head of a pin and predicted the increasing possibility to study and control matter at the nanolevel.

The word “nanotechnology” was introduced in 1974 by a Japan scientist Norio Taniguchi in reference to the ability to engineer materials specifically at the nanometer scale. The leading force for working at a miniature scales at that time was the electronics industry. It attempted to create tools in order to produce smaller (and hence faster and more sophisticated) devices working on silicon chips. In fact, in the USA, IBM used a method called electron beam lithography to produce devices with size range of 40–70nm back in the early 1970s.

A decade later, nanotechnology has been given enthusiastic publicity as the amazing new science that will change the world. In 1986, Eric Drexler presented the concept of nanotechnology to a world audience in his book “Engines of Creation.” In his next work, “Nanosystems: Molecular Machinery, Manufacturing and Computation” (1992), Drexler provided a technically more thorough explanation of the study. He proposed revolutionary insights on the development of nanotechnology, “Arranged one way, atoms make up soil, air and water, arranged another, they make up ripe strawberries”. Drexler referred to the production of machines so tiny that they could be able to manipulate material by assembling atom by atom. This was the main idea of Drexler’s concept of nanotechnology. The ideas, which Drexler proposed, were such innovative that he might have been an author of science fiction books. However, his vision inspired many researchers. Drexler asked, “What is possible, what is achievable, and what is desirable?” He had very optimistic predictions about the importance of nanotechnology for humankind: stating that it can help to heal and protect Earth. On the other side, he anticipated three obstacles to his vision of the future, which can result in unenviable danger for the whole world if they are not dealt with: “Evil – are we too wicked to do the right thing? Incompetence – are we too stupid to do the right thing? Sloth – are we too lazy to prepare?”

Over 20 years later, there are no self-reproducing machines, and no nanorobots that went out of control creating “grey goo” and threatening the world. One of the reasons for this can be that Drexler’s optimism and his science fiction sense was notable to grow a nanotechnology industry of high public visibility, and much of government oversight.

Attention of media to nanotechnology has consistently raised the specter of the ‘grey goo’: an end of the world scenario in which nanorobots self-reproduce and get out of hand, creating unlimited duplicates of themselves, consuming all resources and eventually putting an end to humans existence. While most of the scientists believe this to be merely a product of science fiction fantasies, many argue that this scenario could be possible as a result of unregulated nanotechnology.

Drexler and his associates have continued academic researches of the possibility of creating self-replicating machines. However, there is no practical experimental advancement in this area ever since 1986. The reason is obvious: there are numerous serious crucial scientific problems and oppositions. In addition, the majority of the scientific community has confidence in the impossibility of mechanical self-reproducing nanobot proposal.

It is only in recent years, complicated tools have been created, which enabled researches to study and manipulate materials at the nanolevel, and, therefore, significantly extended understanding of the nature of nanoparticles. One of the most important discoveries in this field was made possible with the creation of the scanning tunneling microscope (STM) in 1982. Four years later, researches developed the atomic force microscope (AFM), which is still one of the leading tools for measurement in nanoscience. These instruments implement nanoscale probes to depict a surface with atomic resolution. They can also pick up, slide or drag atoms and molecules on surfaces in order to build elementary nanostructures. In 1990, Don Eigler and Erhard Schweizer conducted a prominent experiment at IBM. They relocated xenon atoms on a nickel surface and wrote the company name. It was a complicated process, which took them a day in well-controlled conditions. Currently, these tools are used not only in engineering, but in other various fields. For example, atomic force microscope is used in studying organic molecules such as proteins.

The process conducted by Eigler and Schweizer is only one of the many ways to create materials. Various techniques of manipulating with material on the level of nanoparticles are generally divided into ‘top-down’ or ‘bottom-up’. ‘Top-down’ approach involves beginning with a piece of material, and shaping it to the desired form. On contrary, ‘bottom-up’ method is conducted by assembling atoms or molecules to create a larger structure. The main task for top-down production is the formation of small structures with necessary accuracy, while for bottom-up production, it is necessary to create structures big enough to be used as materials. These two techniques have developed distinctly and have now reached the same point of the most efficient feature size, which enables to come up with new hybrid ways of production.

Branches of Nanotechnology

Nanoscience and nanotechnology deal with a wide variety of science fields, such as physics, chemistry, medicine, engineering and many others. At large, the application of nanotechnology is used in four general categories: nanomaterials, nanometrology, electronics and bio-nanotechnology. This is a broad distinguish, and developments in all fields often overlap.

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Nanomaterials

A basic driving force in the production of novel and enhanced materials, from the steels of the 19th century to the cutting-edge materials of today, has been the ability to manipulate their structure at increasingly smaller levels. The general properties of matter straightforwardly depend on the structure of their micro- and nanoparticles. With increasing understanding of nanostructures and improving ability to manipulate them, there will be a great possibility to produce various materials with advanced features and functions.

In a broad sense, nanomaterials can be defined as materials with structured components of size less than 100nm. It was possible to produce some of such materials for some time; others are truly new.

As mentioned above, there are two main factors, which make the properties of nanomaterials to be significantly different from each other: increased surface area, and quantum effects. With a particle decreasing in size, there is a greater number of atoms on the surface than within. For an instance, a particle of 10nm has 20% of its atoms on its surface compared to those inside the particle, and 3nm — 50%. Therefore, particles have a comparatively bigger surface area per unit mass than larger particles. With bigger proportion of atoms, a given mass of material will have much bigger reactivity than the same mass of material built of larger particles.

Together with effects of increased surface area, quantum effects can begin to control the properties of material at a size of the nanoscale. Consequently, the optical, electrical and magnetic properties of materials can be affected, especially when the size decreases to the smaller end of the nanoscale. Materials that are produced by using these effects are quantum dots, and quantum well lasers for optoelectronics.

Nanomaterials production does not simply deals with making materials smaller. They often need very dissimilar production methods. Even though most nanomaterial researches are at the laboratory stage of production, several of them are being commercialized.

Nanometrology

Nanometrology is the study that deals with measurement at the nanolevel. Its application underpins all of nanoscience and nanotechnologies. Being able to measure and study characteristics of materials at the nanoscale is crucial for production of nanomaterials and devices at a high degree of accuracy and reliability. Nanometrology involves measurements of length or size in nanometers as well as measurement of physical properties, such as mass, force and electrical behavior. With the development of methods of measurement, increases understanding of behavior of nanoparticles. This makes possible to improve qualities of materials and increase reliability and efficiency of manufacture.

Nanometrology is a significant part of nanotechnology. Nanotechnologies cannot develop without development of techniques in nanometrology. In addition to their direct impact on nanoscience studies in terms of providing valuable data, the means used for solving nanometrology problems can often be implemented in many other areas. Contrariwise, it is possible that further researches into nanotools will lead to new measurement techniques.

The process of measurement with nanoscale precision is difficult of multiple reasons. Environmental instabilities such as vibration or temperature can create great obstacles at the nanoscale. It is crucial for researchers to be able to define and measure these external influences, and then reduce them.

At present, there are tools that can make accurate measurements to provide necessary data for laboratory research. There are a numerous sensor technologies and tools used in laboratories. However, general standards for measuring instruments have not yet been set. Researches show that even the most sophisticated users of AFMs can have large deviations in their measurements of the same objects. Without common standards, instruments cannot be calibrated in order to match at the produced results. Thus, there is little or no possibility for laboratories and manufacturing companies to share or compare their findings. The absence of generally accepted standards makes it hard to establish health and safety regulations. Characterization for size, distribution and shape of nanoparticles also lacks formal approaches.

Electronics, Optoelectronics, and IT

The information technology (IT) has been revolutionized for the past 30 years. The driving force of this revolution is the desire to exchange information. For this purpose, a technology must be able to save and process data in one part of the planet and send it almost instantly to the other. Such a technology sets enormous requirements of processing and saving information, and transferring it and transforming it to make it readable for people. There is also increasing requirements for secure encryption methods of information.

IT industry is the one where the trend for miniaturization is most visible. This is possibly most noticeable by registering the number of manufactured transistors, the building blocks of computer chips, for the recent decades. In 1971, Intel put about 2300 transistors on their first computer chip, with a clock speed (an attribute that measures the speed the chip performance) of 800 thousand cycles per second. In 2003, the Intel Xeon processor contained 108 million transistors with over 3 billion cycles per second. What is interesting, the physical size of the chip has remained practically the same. The transistor and the entire periphery associated with it has become smaller radically. The growth in the amount of transistors together with increased speed has powered the IT industry. In 1971, the manufacture of one transistor cost about 10 cents. Now, it is less than one-thousandth of a cent. This is revolutionary advancement of technology.

Nanoscience research in the field of information and communication technology has many of the same objectives as other applications of nanoscience. They are a better understanding of properties of materials and devices at the nanoscale, improvements in production, and search for new alternative technologies that may provide competitive commercial benefit. It is obvious that the sector of ICT has driven a large part of scientific researches on nanotechnologies.

Bio-nanotechnology and Nanomedicine

Among all currently known nanoscale machines, the most complex and efficient are the naturally assembled molecules that control different biological systems. For example, proteins have highly specific functions and take part in practically all biological processes. In this respect, nature has a lot of the nanoscale machines and instruments that nanoscientists would like to emulate.

Bio-nanotechnology and nanomedicine are concerned with properties at the molecular scale and implementations of biological nanostructures. Therefore, they are closely related to chemistry, biology and physics. By using methods of nanoproduction and procedures of molecular self-production, bio-nanotechnology can be used to create materials and devices such as tissue and cells, molecular motors, and molecules for sensor, drug delivery and mechanical applications. Bio-nanotechnology can be applied in medicine as a systematic approach to drug discovery, which can improve techniques for both diagnosis and treatment.

The main aim of current studies is to acquire a comprehensive understanding of rudimentary biochemical and biophysical processes at the molecular level. This information will enable to determine the design rules of naturally assembled molecular devices. In turn, this may result in the development of new technological solutions.

There is one class of proteins that has been of particular interest to the scientific community -the membrane proteins. It is a group of protein-based devices that are responsible for numerous physiological processes. They consist of ion channels that allow rapid and selective flow of ions through the cell membrane, hormone receptors that serve as molecular triggers, and photoreceptors, which are necessary for the process of vision and photosynthesis. It is expected that they will be the object to almost 80% of all new drug tests. Methods for both observation and use are now being used to investigate the selectivity mechanisms of ion channels, and their reaction to drugs, which can help to promote the development of medicine.

Organizations in Nanotechnology

There are numerous nanotechnology companies and organizations. There are also a lot of firms, which are directly or indirectly involved with nanotechnology. Basing on the current situation, their amount will increase exponentially in the future.

NanoSys

NanoSys was founded by Larry Bock, one of the most renowned figures in nanotech world. The company works on the development of nanotechnology-enabled systems. Their production is applied in optoelectronics, and nanoelectronics. NanoSys holds more than 750 technological patents for products and processes that are considered innovative in a wide range of industries from Flash memory devices and LED lighting to medical equipment and nano-coatings. The company has also made significant contribution to the development of nanometer transistors for a new generation of computer chips.

Oxford Instruments PLC

Oxford Instruments PLC is England-based company, which often receives a lot of publicity. This firm specializes on research and production of instruments and systems for both research and commercial use. Oxford Instruments has many facilities in the UK, US, Europe, and Asia. Alike Nanosys, they are working with multiple products for various industries, such as agriculture, electronics, energetics, textiles, forensics, metallurgy, minerals and mining, semiconductor production and, of course, nanotechnology.

In addition, the company is involved in different activities, which are aimed on producing and enhancing various technologies:

NanoAnalysis – produces components for electron and ion beam microscopes, X-ray systems, and gas injection systems.

Industrial Analysis – involves analysis of elemental particles performed by X-ray Fluorescence (XRF), X-ray tube production and Space Technology.

Plasma Technology – provides innovative instrumentation and procedures used in the micro- and nano-structures engineering.

NanoScience – systems for measurements at the atomic scale, which are used in physical researches.

Superconducting Technology – advances that are aimed on production of superconducting wires with high resistance to low temperatures.

Hybrid Plastics

Hybrid Plastics is a former U.S. Air Force research lab. It has contributed to the industry of nanotechnology by developing innovative technologies of plastics production. The materials derive from sand and are exceptionally firm, efficient, and are manufactured by environmentally friendly production process. Over 200 companies purchase nanostructured materials from now privately held Hybrid Plastics. The company, which grew in the beginning with the help of government funding, now sells plastics and biochemical for research and development purposes. Their products are used by different customers, such as optical, electronics, and beauty corporations.

Chemat Technology

Chemat Technology began in the area of research and development and was funded by government. In 2000, after ten years of hard work, the company turned into a profitable business. Before that, Chemat Technology has successfully completed almost 100 government contracts. Their main field of research is the production and distribution of sol-gel based enhanced materials and systems. They produce materials for both own use and for their clients that further implement them to create even more advanced products.

Luxtera

Luxtera was started by two well-known researchers in nanophotonics — Eli Yablonovitch, who invented the photonic crystal, and Dr. Axel Scherer, who was one of the pioneers in nanoscale fabrication. Being extremely profitable, Luxtera manufactures a product based on the most current developments in the field of nanophotonics. Their technology is based on optical structures, which are significantly smaller compared to those that are used in traditionally optical devices. Luxtera’s technology has a potential lower the cost of optical-electronic conversions and optoelectronic structures.

Insert Therapeutics

Insert Therapeutics specializes on producing a non-toxic, intracellular delivery system for molecularscale drugs. The company’s production is based on the research of Mark Davis’ laboratory. While competing organizations practice simple “patching” of new components onto materials, Insert’s exclusive technology, CycloSert, releases different drugs directly into cells. This drug delivery technique is capable of carrying medications of any size and type, from drugs to DNA molecules.

Rockwell Scientific

Rockwell Scientific belongs to a group of the most noticeable research and development laboratories. It is concerned with a wide range of innovative technologies, and has developed a wide collection of technology and research material that can be used in numerous fields.

Cyrano Sciences

The most recognized Cyrano’s development is an exclusive sensing technology. The product of Cyrano Sciences is ground-breaking sensor technology that transform scents into digital “smellprints” by a small and cheap NoseChip (TM). Cyrano has developed software protocols for transferring information from “smellprints.” This technology is used for a variety of purposes, such as detection of chemical weapon, diseases and food quality control

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Genefluidics

Genefluidics was founded in 2000 by scientists at UCLA. The company is focused on bio-nanotechnological advances and is producing brand-new devices for molecular analysis. Their products are a top-quality analytical reader, and a hand-held reader that can detect and examine DNA/RNA, proteins and other molecules from raw samples. These tools provide highly precise quantitative and qualitative data for a couple of minutes, while the analogues would take days to complete the analysis. They also have a significantly lower cost.

Conclusion

Nanoscience and nanotechnologies combine exciting fields of research and development at the crossing point of biologic, chemical and physical studies. Many researchers consider nanotechnology to have enormous potential. Consequently, it attracts considerable investments from governmental and industrial organizations around the world. In broad sense, nanoscience is the study that deals with manipulation of materials at atomic and molecular levels, where features of those materials are significantly different from those at a larger level. Nanotechnology is the design, production and usage of devices and systems with the help of manipulations of materials at nanometer scale.

Nanotechnology majorly focuses on understanding the properties of matter at the nanolevel and investigating various effects of decreasing its size. Nanoparticles can have, for example, electrical, optical or magnetic properties, which differ depending on their size. Nanotechnology is an interdisciplinary field, with knowledge of the physics and chemistry at the nanolevel being important to all scientific areas. Knowledge of the physic and chemical processes at the level of nanoparticles is important to all scientific areas, from biology to engineering and medicine. Collaborations between scientist and engineered in different disciplines made it possible to share knowledge, instruments and methods of research and production.

Nanotechnology is able to influence the world in so many ways. However, some people overstate potential advantages whereas others overstate the risks. Exaggerated claims about advantages and risks, which are mostly have no scientific ground underneath, are damaging the field. Nanotechnology is at its early stage of development. In most cases, the advances of the field have been incremental, such as re-making of present technologies. However, it is obvious that nanotechnologies possess the potential to considerably change production processes across a numerous industries.