Indio San @ Envisioning
The word nanotechnology was coined by American engineer Eric Dexler in his book Engines of Creation (1986) to mean the production of virus-sized structures, devices and systems through techniques of microtechnology (nanoelectronics among others) and molecular biology (nanotagging among others). It has been described, with a touch of artistic license, as atomic-scale sculpting, if manipulation of nanomaterials is taken into account. Although invisible, atoms and particle zoos shape our world, and this explains why we want to visualize them as precisely as possible, even at the cost of entangling imaging with imagining. Today, thanks to nuclear magnetic resonance and cryoelectron microscopy, we can peer into molecular landscapes dramatically different from those depicted in the old biology textbooks.
Dexter was the first to glimpse the likelihood of nanoscale machines programmed to create new units identical to themselves, assemblers capable of constructing more assemblers and quickly multiplying. Fast and out-of-control, the manufacturing rate would become exponential, ensuing an unrelenting torrent of assemblers. Eventually, they would strip the Earth of all organic matter, covering the planet with a gray goo mantle, an event scientifically named ecophagy. That is a seriously weird fantasy vision, absolutely off the table. Today, what most closely resembles self-replicating machines is a synthetic molecular assembler that produces polymers ―and not as fast as computer viruses and quines.
Quantum Polka Dots
Nanocrystals are tiny particles ranging between 2 and 10 nonometers and offer a variety of applications. As they are semiconductors, that is, they can transport electrons, there are obvious employments of electronic nature, but for having the capacity to emit light over a wide range of wavelengths.
The overriding drawback is that the dots are made of toxic heavy metal elements. Fortunately, new studies have found that carbon dots can assume the function. But not all of them. Scientists are now carrying out selection procedures to purify carbon dot populations, separating the perfect emitters from the bad ones, with the hope of synthesizing them at some time.
Clean with Caution
Scientists have introduced nitrogen, carbon or metals into the titanium structure, creating a nanoparticle showing unique optical properties, the titanium dioxide. Such exotic element show photocatalysis properties, attributed to its handling of natural or artificial light to stimulate chemical reactions. This can be translated into nanoremediation techniques that transform, through luminous energy, hazardous air pollutants into harmless compounds, as well as water disinfection processes.
This nanoparticle 'blinks' and scientists do not know exactly what happens, but they assume it has to do with electrons staying trapped within titanium dioxide struct. Nature is mysterious and that is why it is necessary to recognize its 'deep uncertainty', applying the precautionary principle to analyze the potential risks of nanotechnologies. It seems to be unwise to embrace the opposite ―the proactionary principle― under this heading.
What Lies Ahead
In nature, the old dream of self-replicating assemblers is a reality since remote times, and one might take cues from prions, protein aggregates that are able to self-propagate abnormally. But, in the world of nanomanufacturing, building an assembler is extremely difficult. Against all odds, new nanofabrication methods are emerging every year and self-assembled nanoparticles-based materials are making a start on a no longer impossible future.
The results of a research that brings DNA origami technique to a new level has recently been released. Columbia engineering researchers were able to 'cast' 3D silica structures that can be pulled from nanoparticles sculpted out of DNA. The technique of directing the self-assembly of nanoparticle-based materials into desired nanostructures has already been mastered, but only in 2D and liquid state architectures. This achievement might enable the formatting of close-knit electronic nanoobjects, as lattice-shaped transistors, breaching Moore's law dead-end, especially in relation to miniaturization.
Whilst the majority of scientists think it’s improbable ―if not to say impossible― to eradicate SARS-CoV-2 in no time, they at least have been successful in the rapid delivery of mRNA vaccines. But given the severity of the crisis, much more is needed. It is expected that they could leverage nanotechnology in developing antiviral agents with new platforms. This makes it possible to produce self-assembling virus-like particles (VLPs), devoid of genetic material, an ersatz of traditional antigens that induce immune responses, with the advantage of being non-infectious.
If all goes well, VLP-factories shall form part of a larger project to improve human condition in the near future, something already put forward by NBIC, or the convergence of nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, and cognitive science.
A separation method developed as a continuation and branch of ultra-low pressure systems in which wastewater is forced through a nano semi-permeable membrane that filters out nearly all contaminants. This solution depends on the force of gravity. The gravity pressure is used to force contaminated water through a semi-permeable membrane that removes nearly all pollution, bacteria, viruses, and organic substances from wastewater. It is a type of separation technology developed between ultrafiltration and reverse osmosis. A variety of nanomaterials such as carbon nanotubes, carbon-based material composites, graphene, nano metals, metal oxides, structured membranes, and polymeric sorbents have shown to be efficient in the removal of heavy metal ions. In particular, carbon nanotubes have also proven to be a tool for water desalination, providing higher quality water for general purposes and agricultural water and irrigation pipes. The process of nanofiltration could include carbon nanotubes within its composition, creating an even more precise filter.
A tagging method made up of nano-scale tags capable of detecting change or collecting data about its surroundings. Due to nanotechnology advancements, these tags can inform or keep track of data such as location, data logged along supply-chain or chemical composition. This could be applied to monitor a variety of items, from inside a living being and animal migration pattern to the product packaging and complex supply-chain systems.
A method that converts a short DNA section into a unique barcode, allowing scientists and researchers to catalog and differentiate species of animals, plants, viruses, or tissues. This process happens by first isolating DNA from the sample, then amplifying the target DNA barcode region using PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction). After that, the PCR products are sequenced and compared against a reference database to find matching species. Depending on which analyte is being targeted, different sections must be observed and recorded. This procedure can be done in a lab, but emerging portable formats allow scientists to work in loco for faster and more accurate results. It is currently being employed to catalog wildlife and to improve food transparency by certifying if the product being bought is, in fact, the one advertised.
An environmentally sustainable desalination method that uses nanophotonic solar membranes to distill and desalinate water. The desalination process occurs when solar panels convert a portion of captured sunlight into electricity. The remaining energy harnessed by the solar panels is used as thermal power to boil saltwater, which runs across a porous membrane embedded with nanophotonic carbon. The membrane heats up, drawing water vapor, which is later collected in a pooled form of purified water. Recent studies have shown that adding inexpensive plastic lenses to create hot spots on the panels greatly improves efficiency. This method can be done off-grid and it is energy cost-efficient while also being able to avoid fossil fuel dependency in households and communities.
A hybrid method to remediate pollutants present in the environment, able to biosynthesize nanoparticles by capturing metal ions through plants, bacteria, yeast, and fungi, and turning them into elementary non-toxic compounds through enzymes generated by cells. This bioremediation method reduces the toxicity in microorganisms while improving the microbial activity of specific toxic materials.
Nanomaterials applied to a matrix of molecules on a particular surface, becoming a robust outer layer of protection for surfaces to create these materials. This nano-sealing, ultra-thin coating method self-assembles on the surface of objects and organic products such as fruits and vegetables to protect them from dirt, ripeness, UV-light, and bacteria. Nanocoatings are extraordinarily slippery and water-resistant, and as hydrophobic or hydrophilic materials, they can protect nearly every type of surface from the effects produced by humidity and corrosion.
This method works for desalinating and cleaning contaminated water while requiring low energy levels. It involves the passive movement of water through a semi-permeable membrane into a solution of a higher concentration, where water is then extracted from the higher concentration product. Forward osmosis (FO) technology relies on the natural osmotic process, driven by a concentration gradient instead of significant hydraulic pressures. In this process, water is extracted from a lower concentrated feed solution and drawn to a highly concentrated draw solution. In biological systems, FO is a process by which cells maintain their integrity and transport important molecules.