Nanotechnology is an emerging field and is so new that its future is very uncertain. Nanotechnology is the study of incredibly small objects, deriving its name from a nanometer (nm), which is one-billionth of a meter. To understand how small this is, compare to a human hair, which is approximately 60,000 to 80,000 nanometers wide. If a nanometer were a marble, then a meter would be the size of the entire Earth.
Even though the science is new, nanotechnology actually has a long history of use. For example, the rich colors of the stained glass windows used in European Cathedrals throughout the 6th to 15th Centuries derived from the nanoparticles of gold chloride and other metal oxides and chlorides. However, the people who crafted these windows did not exactly understand the scientific qualities of nanotechnology or how they were manipulating it. Physicist Richard Feynman introduced the concept of manipulating and controlling objects close in size to individual atoms and molecules in his 1959 talk at an American Physical Society Meeting titled “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom”. It wasn’t until the 1981 when scientists had developed microscopes able to see these particles, commencing the study of nanoparticles.
|Stained Glass Windows Are an Early Use of Nanotechnology|
A great deal of the scientific understanding of nanotechnology has been standardized for use in industry. PD CEN ISO/TS 27687:2009: Nanotechnologies - Terminology and Definitions for Nano-objects - Nanoparticle, Nanofibre and Nanoplate establishes that all nanoscale particles can be sized between 1 nm to 100 nm. The lower limit to this range is instituted to exclude single atoms or small groups of atoms that that might be confused as nanostructures. The three basic shapes identified in this standard that are used to create objects through nanotechnology are nanoparticles, nanofibers, and nanoplates. They are illustrated in the document as:
In addition to these three main groups, nanofibers contain three subgroups, including nanowires, nanotubes, and nanorods, depending on the purpose for which they are used. These different minuscule structures are combined together to craft objects with near-perfect precision.
Nanotechnological materials are unique in many ways. Unlike larger materials, they cannot be measured by traditional methods, and it is difficult to assign them with traditional units of measurement. ISO/TS 17200:2013: Nanotechnology – Nanoparticles in Powder Form – Characteristics and Measurements lists the characteristics that are regularly associated with nanoparticles in powder form. These are: chemical composition (unit – 1 or g/g), specific surface area (unit – m2/g), composition of crystal structure (unit – 1 or mol/mol), average crystalline size (unit - nm), and average and standard deviation of the measured primary particle sizes (unit - nm). The standard details guidelines for executing the different methods needed to determine these values from a sample of powdered nanoparticles. These five qualities act as the main units for measuring nanoscale particles.
Construction using nanoscale particles is often performed on artificial gratings, which are also used for identifying the different structures that are outlined in the previously referenced standards. IEC/TS 62622:2012: Artificial gratings used in nanotechnology - Description and measurement of dimensional quality parameters is a technical specification that provides the background needed to categorize these artificial gratings by measurement and to evaluate their need for calibration. This establishes quality assurance in the production of these gratings for almost any use in nanotechnology. Examples of artificial grating applications include acting as tools to calibrate microscopes that measure nano-objects, and acting as encoder systems needed to provide feedback during semiconductor manufacturing that requires precision at the nanoscale.
With nano-objects being so unknown, providing a proper education in the topic is incredibly important. ASTM E2996-15: Standard Guide for Workforce Education in Nanotechnology Health and Safety demonstrates how to incorporate nanotechnology education into a curriculum, particularly at the undergraduate level. These guidelines are intended to deeply educate students in the general use of nanostructures, but also to give them a background in the health and safety issues associated with using these tiny objects. This can help to ensure a future that takes advantage of the benefits of nanotechnology without causing harm.
As of now, additional research is needed to fully understand the dangers of nanotechnology. Its variety of applications is beneficial overall for many industries and human society, but it must be handled with care. For example, nanotechnology can be a very useful as a tool to combat cancer, but introducing these tiny particles into the human body might lead to problems. Researchers are currently developing nanoparticles that can deliver drugs directly to diseased cells in the body, which can help many people if they are perfected. The potential health risks associated with nanotechnology must continue to be studied so that the field of science can advance to benefit the world.