After more than 20 years of basic nanoscience research andmore than a decade of focused R&D under the NNI, applications of nanotechnology are delivering in both expected and unexpected ways on nanotechnologys promise to benefit society.
Nanotechnology is helping to considerably improve, even revolutionize, many technology and industry sectors: information technology, energy, environmental science, medicine, homeland security, food safety, and transportation, among many others. Described below is a sampling of the rapidly growing list of benefits and applications of nanotechnology.
Most benefits of nanotechnology depend on the fact that it is possible to tailor the essential structures of materials at the nanoscale to achieve specific properties, thus greatly extending the well-used toolkits of materials science. Using nanotechnology, materials can effectively be made to be stronger, lighter, more durable, more reactive, more sieve-like, or better electrical conductors, among many other traits. There already exist over 800 everyday commercial products that rely on nanoscale materials and processes:
Nanotechnology is already in use in many computing, communications, and other electronics applications to provide faster, smaller, and more portable systems that can manage and store larger and larger amounts of information. These continuously evolving applications include:
The difficulty of meeting the worlds energy demand is compounded by the growing need to protect our environment. Many scientists are looking into ways to develop clean, affordable, and renewable energy sources, along with means to reduce energy consumption and lessen toxicity burdens on the environment.
Besides lighter cars and machinery that requires less fuel, and alternative fuel and energy sources, there are many eco-friendly applications for nanotechnology, such as materials that provide clean water from polluted water sources in both large-scale and portable applications, and ones that detect and clean up environmental contaminants.
Nanorust cleans arsenic from drinking water. (Image courtesy of Rice University)
New nanotechnology-enabled sensors and solutions may one day be able to detect, identify, and filter out, and/or neutralize harmful chemical or biological agents in the air and soil with much higher sensitivity than is possible today. Researchers around the world are investigating carbon nanotube scrubbers, and membranes to separate carbon dioxide from power plant exhaust. And researchers are investigating particles such as self-assembled monolayers on mesoporous supports (SAMMS), dendrimers, carbon nanotubes, and metalloporphyrinogens to determine how to apply their unique chemical and physical properties for various kinds of toxic site remediation.
Nanotechnology has the real potential to revolutionize a wide array of medical and biotechnology tools and procedures so that they are more personalized, portable, cheaper, safer, and easier to administer. Below are some examples of important advances in these areas.
Before (left) and after (right) picture of atherosclerotic placque in a mouse artery. Placque accumulation is shown in this image by the increasing intensity of color, from blue to yellow and red. (Image courtesy of M. Nahrendorf, MGH Center for Systems Biology, Harvard Medical School)
In addition to contributing to building and maintaining lighter, smarter, more efficient, and greener vehicles, aircraft, and ships, nanotechnology offers various means to improve the transportation infrastructure:
Besides moving forward to capture these and many other benefits of nanotechnologies, the NNI is also committed to addressing the potential environmental, health, and safety impacts and various societal, legal, or ethical implications of nanotechnology to avoid or minimize any undesirable or unintended effects of nanotechnology.
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Benefits and Applications | Nano
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