Volume 3, Issue 1 
1st Quarter, 2008

Nanotechnology and Life Sciences

Challa Kumar, Ph.D.

This article was adapted from a lecture given by Challa S. S. R. Kumar, Ph.D. during Terasem Movement, Inc.’s 3rd Annual Workshop Webinar on Geoethical Nanotechnology, July 20th, 2007.

Dr. Kumar discusses how nanotechnology has always existed within nature and how we recently acquired the capability to understand and apply this science to benefit both our man-made and natural environments and increase our quality of life.

I am going to touch briefly on technologies that are currently under development and then move a step ahead, into more of a philosophical regime rather than a scientific regime, and see what should be done, the main goal of us scientists, in moving ahead to these technologies.       

Many of us are already familiar with nanotechnology.  We are inundated on a daily basis with plenty of information via newspapers, magazines, or scientific research publications.   There is also plenty of money available to conduct the nano research, both from the governmental agencies, as well as from private agencies.  We are all also familiar with how nanotechnology is going to achieve varying things, scientifically and otherwise.

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Nanotechnology is no longer a myth, it is science based on real life successes.  It is going to bring in a market value of about $25 billion by the year 2011, which is not very far away; it is just four years more.  It is truly a revolution, competing with some of the great revolutions there have been so far such as textiles, railroad, automobile, computer, and so on.     

Having really seen the impact of the nanotechnology revolution, I want to give you a heads-up on exactly what the nano scale is. It takes about one nanometer to reach one billionth of a meter; the depiction that you see is equal to one nanometer.

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There are several examples that we could use to define nanoscience [1] and nanotechnology, both natural as well as manmade.

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Nanoscience is all about understanding the scientific aspects of materials and technologies of the nano scale. Present nanotechnologies are about converting this basic science into applied benefits. I am going to outline why these nanomaterials are important, and why we feel the importance of the nanomaterial is not only within the manmade things, but also in the natural environment.  The nanomaterials are really important because the materials possess very, very unique properties.  

Take gold for example; we are all familiar with gold.  You can see these ornaments are owned by many people in different countries.  Solid gold is bright yellow in color, whereas the nano-sized gold is bright red in color. The optical and mechanical properties of the gold change with size.             

Think of any property, the nano scale has very unique properties.  The idea is to convert,  take advantage of these nano scale properties, and build items by utilizing those unique advantages.     

Nanotechnology is not really new; it’s been there in nature, we now have the opportunity to understand the presence of nanoscience and nanotechnology in nature. There are several, very exciting examples. For example, abalone pearls.  I am sure we are all familiar with abalone pearls, which are extremely expensive and are made up of nanostructured calcium carbonate with protein and carbohydrate mortar. That's what makes these abalone pearls worth millions of dollars.        

Whereas the familiar chalk that we use for writing on the board is also made of calcium carbonate.  Chalk is worth pennies when compared to the millions of dollars of value of associated with abalone pearls. That is the kind of value that nanotechnology and nanoscience possesses within the natural environment.

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There are a few more examples, the gecko for one. The gecko has the ability to provide an extreme and aggressive competence in climbing mountains. The ability of the gecko comes from the structures of the gecko’s foot, which is all made of nanostructured material.   Such nanostructure provides unique properties and unique advantages.         

Similarly, there are power plants, literally power plants which are chloroplasts in various plants that we've seen, and that is what is responsible for energy, and this is again a nanostructured material.

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Another example is the the Manuka beetle cuticle, which has a nanostructured liquid crystals that have very interesting optical properties that makes the cuticle iridescent.

While there are innumerable number of examples in nature, it is exciting to know that we are now, slowly unraveling these mysteries.

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1. Nanoscience – “refers to the ability to manipulate individual atoms and molecules, making it possible to build machines on the scale of human cells or create materials and structures from the bottom up with novel properties. Nanoscience could change the way almost everything is designed and made, from automobile tires to vaccines to objects not yet imagined.”
http://www.nsf.gov/news/overviews/nano/index.jsp  January 22, 2008 3:26PM EST



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