Nanotechnology is a branch of applied science and technology that deals with the control of matter on a scale less than a nanometer (a billionth of a meter), and the design and realization of materials, objects or devices at the nanometer scale.
It was owed to the American chemist Richard E. Smalley the discover, in 1925, that, in particular situations, carbon atoms make up ordered structures of spherical or elongated form (the nanotubes). The nanotube, made in 1991 by the japan researcher Sumio Iijima is an extremely tensile-resistant structure (100 times more than steel), and also has some interesting electrical properties.
It will be Eric Drexler, a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), in 1986, to take an interest to nanotechnologies developments, of glimpsing a great technological revolution that would have allowed to built the matter “atom by atom”.
With nanotechnologies, almost any type of material can be created and modified in the laboratory: tiny robots for nanomedicine, ever smaller and faster chips, RFID (radio frequency labels) to track goods movements and any living being.
This is why nanotechnologies have become a strategic platform for the global control of every production and sector: food, health, information technology and military. A pillar of the 21st century Green Economy.
The applications of nanotechnologies potentially covers every sector of production:
- commercial applications: materials that integrate tiny particles capable of enhancing their characteristics (water-proof fabrics and stains, windscreens capable of filtering the sun’s rays, super-resistant tennis rackets)
- electronic and computer applications: to build ever smaller and more powerful devices (ex: transistors and circuits starting from organic molecules, or computers with characteristics and power higher than current ones)
- applications in medicine: to build nanorobots, able to travel through the blood vessels to treat lesions or tumors
- environmental applications:
- to make water purification systems more efficient
- to detect chemical and biological contaminations for the environment
- to develop more environmentally friendly production processes (use for solar energy through photovoltaic cells).