Is nanotechnology (in relation to Chemistry, Biology, GeoScience and Physics) the most important scientific discipline to have emerged in the 21st century?

Subject: Is nanotechnology (in relation to chemistry, Biology, Geoscience and Physics) the most important scientific discipline to have emerged in the 21st century? Topic: Chemistry Online Discussion Topic
Author: John Date: 25 November 2011 9:32 AM

After all the reading that I have done on this topic in short my answer is YES.

But that still begs the question, what is nanotechnology? I have found a u-tube clip from a nanotechnology research laboratory in the UK that will explain what nanotechnology is. As far are I can understand the sole aim of nanotechnology is to change the function and application of existing materials and technologies to make their function and application cheaper, smarter and more efficient (
However, scientists, and not the public so much, are worried about the potential negative impact nanotechnology may have on the environment and also human health (; This is not unlike the ongoing vigorous and controversial debate raging about GMOs and GM in general.

There are so many new and exciting discoveries and possible applications of these discoveries that nanotechnology has afforded us. Nanotechnology is being used to:

transform regular/traditional lead-acid and nickel metal hydride (NiMH) based batteries used in electric cars into super batteries that out perform petrol engines, ensuring an environmental super-friendly option to petrol cars (;
use CO2 from the atmosphere to produce CO and finally mix CO with H to produce a highly efficient fuel cell capable of replacing crude oil based fuel. Apparently the process has already been in use for a long time and used by Germans during world war 2 and South Africa during apartheid when trade embargoes blocked oil imports. Nanotechnology aims to make the process efficient and cheap (; and
develop powerful chemotherapy alternatives to drugs that cancer patients take. The positive aspects of the nanodrug is that cancer sufferers will not lose their hair, feel nauseous or have their body pumped full of harmful drugs that kill healthy and cancerous cells alike (

While I have only listed a few of the applications of nanotechnology I am convinced that nanotechnology is the most important scientific discipline to have emerged in the 21st century.

So for the last time I posed the very question: Is nanotechnology (in relation to Chemistry, Biology, GeoScience and Physics) the most important scientific discipline to have emerged in the 21st century? To our celebrity science blogger, who is none other than the Dean of the Faculty of Science at uni, Professor 0000. Prof. has won many awards and is internationally renounced for his research in Chemistry and also applications of nanotechnology in Chemistry. This is what Prof. had to say:

Nanotechnology is in the news daily. It is a rapidly expanding area of endeavour that promises applications in many areas from medicine to energy. It is claimed to be the biggest new emerging area of the 21st Century, but is it and what s it s all about?

We all now know that nano means 10-9 so a nanometre is 0.000000001 m. But defining what is nanotechnology or nanoscience has caused much debate and discussion. (ref) The Royal Society of London published recently a definition of nanoscience in an attempt to encapsulate what may is particular about studying things at the nano scale:

Nanoscience is the study of phenomena and manipulation of materials at atomic, molecular and macromolecular scales, where properties differ significantly for those at larger scales

Therefore one of the keys points about things at the nano scale is that properties may be different than at macromolecular scales. One of the most interesting of these is the phenomenon of quantum confinement and the existence of quantum dots. These have particular spectroscopic properties that enable quantum dots to be used as markers for diagnostic and imaging applications.

One of the biggest things to empower the study of nanotechnology has been the advent of advanced microscopic techniques to visual materials at the atomic scale. These include atomic force microscopy (AFM) and scanning tunnelling microscopy (STM). These techniques have revolutionised our ability to understand the fundamental states of matter and picture it – leading to amazing images never possible before.

This improved way to manipulate matter and visualise it at the atomic scale, to produce materials with enhanced properties has led to a broad range of potential applications. Some of the applications are futuristic and controversial, such as the nano sized robots travelling through your blood stream curing disease. These are good publicity but unlikely to be realised for a long time. However, other applications are everyday and happening now such as sunscreens with nanosized ingredients or tennis racquets reinforced with nanomaterials such as carbon nanotubes.

There is no doubt that applications of nanotechnology will have a wide ranging impact on people s lives. There will be applications from batter technology, nanomedicine, clean water, improved electronics and many more. It has attracted some controversy from safety and environmental loobies such as the idea of grey goo, a term coined by Dr. Eric Drexler in his book Engines of Creation Grey goo refers to the result of uncontrolled self-replication of nano-sized machines leading to catastrophic, Armageddon scenarios.

Here at University of (0000) there are some world leading groups working on nano structured materials for a range of potential outcomes, including artificial muscles and nerve regeneration and solar energy conversion. Read about the work of the Intelligent Polymer Research Institute, who are on the Innovation Campus and also the Soft Matter Group in Chemistry.

And for the last timeWhat do you think?

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