Nanotechnology is not just one thing. In a sense, it is everything.
By now, you have likely seen the term “nanotechnology” in print and digital media, or heard it mentioned on more than one occasion. In fact, you may have even noticed that the term has been used more frequently in the past several years as it increasingly becomes a part of our daily lives. But what is nanotechnology exactly?
Nanotechnology is not just one thing. In a sense, it is everything. Everything is composed of matter; nanotechnology is the science of manipulating matter to achieve desired properties.
An application of nanotechnology that everyone is familiar with dates back well over one thousand years: stained glass. Some of the beautiful vibrant colors in stained glass are actually a result of gold and silver salts mixed into the molten glass before it is poured, which forms gold and silver nanoparticles.
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Specific sizes and shapes of these precious metal nanoparticles interact with light to produce specific colors of stained glass. You want a red robe on the queen you’re portraying in the stained glass window you’re making? You’ll need 25 nanometer (nm) spherical particles of gold or 100 nm triangular particles of silver formed in your molten glass. How about some green for the leaves of the plants and trees the queen is standing beside? You’ll need 50 nm spherical particles of gold embedded in the glass. Blue for the sky? You’ll need 40 nm spherical particles of silver – and so on.
From another perspective, nanotechnology is a part of everything because it has applications in practically every field. In cosmetics for example, sunscreen made with nanoparticles of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide allow it to appear clear when applied to the skin rather than the classic stark white seen on the noses of lifeguards in times past.
Many of the most recent groundbreaking advancements in cancer research are due to nanotechnology. Chemotherapy has proven effective in significantly reducing or halting the spread of certain types of cancer cells. This benefit comes at the cost of severely weakening the body’s immune system; thereby, putting the patient at much greater risk of contracting some other illness which can further stress the immune system. Using nanotechnology, scientists have demonstrated that it is possible to create designer molecules containing cancer-killing medicine, direct them to the location of cancer cells, and then cause them to release the medicine. This is essentially like providing chemotherapy at the nano-scale, yet the ability to direct and target treatment minimizes the adverse effects on the rest of the body.
There is a common misperception that nanotechnology is something of the future. While that is certainly true, nanotechnology is also here right now and is integrated into our daily lives. There are many companies in the Seattle area, from small startups to massive international corporations, that are built upon nanotechnology and are actively seeking skilled technicians and professionals to operate high-tech equipment and help create new products.
To learn more visit www.seattlenano.org, and see how the region’s first and only two-year nanotechnology degree is training the workforce of tomorrow.