View from India: Think nano, get big results
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One nanometre is measurably one-billionth of a metre, yet its minuscule size has attracted researchers and bio scientists. Pursuers of this unique technology have explored its various facets and integrated it into diverse fields.
Logically, anything which is of the size of a nanometre will have gone unnoticed, but in the nano world almost everything seems different. “The properties of the nanometre are far too fascinating and intriguing for researchers and scientists to ignore. Nano-engineering enables professionals to exploit the physical-chemical properties of the nanometre. It has found applications in diverse verticals ranging from the semiconductor chip to transistors,” said Professor Srinivasan Raghavan of the Centre for Nano Science and Engineering, Indian Institute of Science (IISc), at the Bengaluru India Nano 2022.
Broadly, nanotechnology finds applications in medicine, energy and industrial verticals, and may gain mainstream relevance if it is positioned as a low-cost technology for the healthcare of the rural population. Take the case of a blood sample: “The nano chip can be used for blood analysis, whose report can be sent to the doctor through the smartphone. So even if someone from a remote or rural location requires healthcare, the individual can access a doctor,” pointed out Raghavan.
The properties of nano materials can improve the treatment of cardiac diseases that are a worldwide concern. “Cardiovascular disease affects the heart and blood flow. India has reported that 63 per cent of deaths are caused by non-communicable diseases of which cardiovascular diseases form a major chunk,” said Dr S Swaminathan at the Centre for Nanotechnology and Advanced Biomaterials, SASTRA Deemed University, Thanjavur. If cardiac diseases can be fatal, accident-related injuries are equally alarming. Dr Swaminathan’s translational research led him and his group to begin work on nano materials for healthcare. The outcome is that nano fibres are being used to regenerate tissues such as skin, nerves, infarcted heart and blood vessels. Nano materials help address cardiovascular thinning and facilitate the blood flow into the valves of the heart.
Nano materials are used in tissue engineering to regenerate the diseased tissue. “The overall objective of skin tissue engineering is to develop random nano fibres for tissue regeneration. The skin incidentally is the largest organ and the third most prolific part of the human body. An injury can leave the layers of the skin damaged. It becomes a clinical challenge to treat such wounds,” added Dr Swaminathan. In the case of wounds and accidents, 3D bio-printing is leveraged to create skin grafts and fabricate the skin tissue.
Futuristically, communication technology points to a shifting scenario where photons will be used in place of electrons. Nano components have a role to play, as nanoparticles absorb photons and re-emit them as photons of longer wavelengths. The thermal insulation of nano components can help lower energy consumption; nanoparticles can help in lowering the carbon footprint.
“Carbon dioxide emission, global warming and rising sea levels are a global threat. It is crucial to reduce CO2 emission or capture CO2 and convert it into something that is environment friendly,” said Professor Peidong Yang of the College of Chemistry, University of California, Berkeley, USA. This conviction urged Yang to explore the process of artificial photosynthesis and discover its facets. What makes artificial photosynthesis different from natural photosynthesis is that it converts CO2 into useful chemicals while releasing energy. This happens through sunlight and renewable energy. Interestingly, the process is carbon-neutral; the synthetic photosynthesis has happened through a synergy between nanoscience and technology where nano wires have been implemented to convert the rays of the sun into liquid fuel.
Nanotechnology can help lower carbon emission. Nano scientists are working on hydrogen-based fuel cells for electric vehicles (EVs). Though EVs rely on lithium-ion batteries, they are not fully free of carbon emissions. Vehicular emission can be lowered by lowering the weight of vehicles, and so researchers have explored the possibility of using lightweight nano-composite materials to reduce the weight of the vehicle.
Coming to the construction industry, nano-structured materials could help lower the heat transfer in building elements. In the case of heating systems, heading loads can also be brought down.
In summary, one hopes that scientists and researchers whet opportunities in nanotechnology. With political support and investments, their solutions could become game-changers in the climate change scenario.
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