If you were given a blemished product and asked to identify the ground of it, wouldn’t you just feel like minimizing yourself a hundred thousand times so as to have a closer look at things with a better and much clearer perspective? Well that’s what exactly nanotechnology is all about.
Nanotechnology is comprehending and manipulating matter on a nano-scale level. Approaching materials at this level leads to novel and significantly improved properties and characteristics. At the subatomic level, materials are found to exhibit properties unlike their bulk counterparts.
For better understanding, the everyday newspaper that flies to your doorstep is 1,00,000 nanometers thick, the human hair is about 80,000 nanometers in diameter (Yes, you heard it right- “in diameter”) and there are 25,400,000 nanometers in an inch. Here we are dealing with materials smaller than one hundred thousandth the width of a human hair! To be more precise, say you have a marble which is in the nanometer scale, if you arrange and stack it’s replicas, then one meter would be the size of the Earth!
Why the hype?
The smaller size of the nanoparticles possess larger surface area, hence leading to a dramatic change in their physical, chemical, thermal, magnetic, optical and other properties and also a much active material characteristic comparatively. Due to their extremely large surface to mass ratio, they exhibit a unique behaviour. Needless to say, as we are marching towards better and sustainable technologies, the issues that come along are also reforming themselves. Hence, today we are in need of swift, reliable and economically viable systems to identify the snag, detect and control them. This is where nanotechnology comes in place.
Applications in food and agriculture
Encouraging crop growth in hostile conditions by manipulating the crop’s genetic structure, detection of pathogens in food products, increased yield of crops by providing suitable pest management (nanosilver, nano alumino-silicate, titanium dioxide and carbon nanoparticles), increase in the shelf life of foods, enhancement of food quality and safety, reduced usage of harmful protective agents, nanocoatings on food contact surfaces (which acts as an antimicrobial coating), absorption of nanonutrients from the soil, nanoscale filters in purification systems, intelligent packaging of food materials, as reliable delivery systems for target delivery of nutrients and supplements, nutrient encapsulation, as steadfast nanocarrier systems, as nanofertilizers and nanopesticides, nanosensors for monitoring the soil quality and for crop protection, use of nanorods to detect phytotoxicity in plants, in producing genetically modified crops, nanofilters for cleaning the environment and in situ nanosensors can also be used for shelf life and quality monitoring of foods.
Haunting Mystery of Nanotechnology
Though the term ‘Nanotechnology’ was coined way back in 1974 by Professor Norio Taniguchi, it still remains a haunting mystery for most of us. The fear of nanoparticles getting accumulated in the food chain is preventing elaborate incorporation of them in daily lives. Due to their small size, they are believed to travel a long way into the environment. Nano particles might lead to unforeseen impact on human health.
Nanotechnology may give way to ‘grey goo’ which are tiny self-replicatory robots which can be disastrous. The fear of all this is preventing us from extending an optimistic hand to explore the numerous opportunities that nanotechnology has in reserve for mankind. Hence it is important for a multidisciplinary convergence of researchers and scientists to connect and assess the conception in order to completely traverse the untouched horizons of nanotechnology. The day is not far when we can experience the future that we had so long been witnessing only in science fiction books and movies, come LIVE.
Thanks to nanotechnology !
The author, Amreena Jan is a masters graduate by profession and a writer by choice. An international research holder in nanotechnology (IDRC, Canada). Known for her witty humorous writing style, she is also a social activist. A co-author and editor of the book ‘Basic and advanced concepts of food engineering’. She is also a blogger with an International recognition. @amreenajan.