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Nanotechnology : Is it our Future ?
09 Aug 2021

Written by: Laetitia Dumora 

Everyday appears news about the latest and greatest in nanotechnology developments.

A great example are the many recent articles related to nanomedicine and vaccines:

  • New COVID RNA-based vaccines are using nanotechnology platforms1
  • Projects to develop nano therapies for vaccines, diagnostic imaging, regenerative medicine, and drug delivery following the impact of COVID-19.2

 

What is Nanotechnology?

Nanotechnology is the design, production and application of structures, devices and systems on the scale of nanometres.

1 nm = 1 BILLIONTH of metre

Nanotechnology infographic from Australian academy of science3

 

Technologies using nanosized objects have been around for hundreds of years.

Medieval artisans discovered through alchemical experimentation that adding gold chloride to molten glass resulted in a red tint, and adding silver nitrate turned the glass yellow. The technique reached its height during the 16th through 18th century and resulted in some of the world’s most spectacular stained glass windows. Recently scientists analyzed stained glass from this era and discovered that the technique, possibly dating back to the 10th century, worked because of nanotechnology; analysis of the stained glass revealed that gold and silver nanoparticles, acting as quantum dots, reflected red and yellow light, respectively.4

                              Notre-Dame de Paris, cathedral at Paris, France

 

Another example, more recent, carbon black used in automotive tires.

In 20th century, industrialists used carbon black to extend the life span of tires. Today, 1.5 million tons of carbon black are produced every year5, it’s the most abundant nanomaterial. Recently scientists have discovered that carbon black’s reinforcement properties can be attributed to the interaction between the rubber and the nanosized carbon particles’ grain.

 

Scientific efforts are demonstrating that nanomaterials have the potential to improve the quality of life. Beyond nanomedicine, automotive, computing, electronic, cosmetics, sports and healthcare industries are all benefitting from nanotechnology innovations.


Nanotechnology infographics from nanotechnology.americanchemistry.com6

Nanotechnology is a giant rising star in business, already creating ca. $70 billion dollars in product sales as of 2020 with significant growth projected for the future7.

 

What is the safety of Nanotechnology?

To determine whether a substance poses a risk to human health or the environment, the evaluation has to consider not only the intrinsic hazard potential (risk or toxicology) of the material but also considering its exposure potential.8 Risk of adverse harm is a function of both a substance’s hazard and exposure to the substance. 

Exposure to the material must be considered via multiple pathways or environments:

  • to the researcher for materials of unknown toxicology
  • to the manufacturers’ production team
  • to the downstream user or converter
  • to the consumer (user of the products) containing nanomaterials
  • to the waste converter or recycler
  • to the environment in the case of waste leakage

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wxFbYoF7SLc&t=109s 

Animation about Are engineered nanoparticles dangerous?, sponsored by Arizona State University9

The overall conclusion so far is that, even though nanomaterials are not per se dangerous, there still is scientific uncertainty about the safety of and therefore a safety assessment of the substances must be done on a case-by-case basis.10

 

To summarize, regarding the question

Nanotechnology : Is it our Future ?

Yes, Nanotechnologies is our Future !

There are so many amazing innovations associated with nanoscience and nanotechnologies which can improve our life. “Nanomaterials have captured our imagination with characteristics that we have never seen before.”, Eva Valsami-Jones, Professor of Environmental Nanoscience at the University of Birmingham.

Equally, nanomaterials capture concerns and benefits/risks assessment need to happen for every specific case.

 

References

1 Nanomedicine and the COVID-19 vaccines. Nat. Nanotechnol. 15, 963 (2020). https://www.nature.com/articles/s41565-020-00820-0

2 https://nano-magazine.com/news/2021/5/25/surging-nanotech-investments-boostnbspglobal-healthcare-and-pandemic-protection

3 https://www.science.org.au/curious/sites/default/files/full-infographic/nanotechology-infographic-20160801-1300px.png

4 https://www.sciencehistory.org/distillations/from-nanotech-to-nanoscience

5 Opportunities and risks of Nanotechnologies - Allianz AG  - Report in co-operation with the OECD International Futures Programme (p10) https://www.oecd.org/science/nanosafety/44108334.pdf

6 https://nanotechnology.americanchemistry.com/infographics/nanotechnology-101.pdf

7 https://www.emergenresearch.com/industry-report/nanotechnology-market

8 Ibid.

9 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wxFbYoF7SLc&t=109s

10 https://ec.europa.eu/environment/chemicals/nanotech/index_en.htm

 

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