Picture which is generally agreed upon is; “Nanotechnology is

Picture this. There is a cancer patient, who has to undergo chemotherapy.  Now we all know that chemotherapy is helpful in controlling the spread of cancer to a certain extent. But, we also know the kind of side-effects that come along with it.  One of the major side-effects is that these chemotherapeutic drugs attack and kill normal, dividing cells in addition to killing the cancerous cells, which is something that we do not want. What if, there was a way to avoid this? What if, we could ensure targeted drug delivery, a new and innovative method which killed only cancerous cells? This is where a new branch of science, called nanotechnology comes into play.Now, the first question that comes to one’s mind is, “What is Nanotechnology?” The basic definition which is generally agreed upon is; “Nanotechnology is the study and use of structures between 1 nanometer (nm) and 100 nanometers in size.” Since it is an upcoming field, there is no concrete definition that everyone can agree upon. For example, the definition given by The National Nanotechnology Initiative states that, “Nanotechnology is the understanding and control of matter at dimensions between approximately 1 and 100 nanometers, where unique phenomena enable novel applications. Encompassing nanoscale science, engineering, and technology, nanotechnology involves imaging, measuring, modeling, and manipulating matter at this length scale.” The basic concepts behind nanotechnology are not very new; in fact these concepts date back to the 4th Century! Craftsmen used heat to produce objects with novel properties. An example of this is the Lycurgus Cup from Rome. It is a dichroic glass that has colloidal gold and silver in it. These allow the glass to look opaque and green when lit from the outside but when light shines inside, the colour changes to a translucent red. Other examples include the Damascus “saber” blades, which had carbon nanotubes and cementite nanowires—an ultrahigh-carbon steel formulation that gave them strength and the ability to hold a sharp edge. Nanotechnology is often seen as one of the most promising, cutting-edge, and disruptive technological breakthroughs of the current time. In the last 50 years, the field undergone a lot of advancement. From using nanoparticles of iron to clean up chemicals in ground water to creating carbon nanotubes which are extremely strong, a plethora of applications for nanotechnology have come up in fields such as medicine, electronics, food, etc. Recently, nanotechnology has been used to come up with methods for diagnosing as well as treating cervical cancer, which is the third most common cancer in women around the world. The Laboratory of Cellular Oncology at the Research Unit in Cell Differentiation and Cancer, of the Faculty of Higher Studies (FES) Zaragoza UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico) developed a treatment for cervical cancer. It consists of a nanostructured composition encapsulating a protein called interleukin-2 (IL -2) which is lethal to cancer cells. The nanoparticles act as the vector for IL-2. They carry the substance to the receptors in cancer cells, then saturate and kill them, apart from generating an immune T-cell bridge. The treatment has been tested in animal models. Nanotechnology has also been used to create effective vaccines for HPV (Human Papilloma Virus).In the field of electronics, nanotechnology is being used to create batteries which are better than the batteries currently in use. An example is what the company Altairenano came up with; lithium-ion batteries with the anode composed of lithium titanate spindel nanoparticles. The advantages that these batteries have is that they have high power, can be recharged quickly and are less combustible than standard lithium-ion batteries. Nanotechnology has numerous contributions to the food industry. Bionanocomposites are being used to create an impermeable barrier to various gases in lightweight bottles, cartons, etc. The reason they are being used for food packaging is that not only do they protect the food and increase its shelf life but they are also an environmentally friendly solution; because they reduce the requirement to use plastics as packaging materials. Apart from that, storage bins are being produced with silver nanoparticles embedded in the plastic. These silver nanoparticles kill bacteria from any material that was previously stored in them, thus minimizing health risks. Recently, nanosensors are being developed in order to detect food spoilages. There is an array of thousands of nanoparticles, designed to fluoresce in different colours on contact with pathogens present on food items.Even the clothes we wear are being improved by the touch of nanotechnology. Fabrics are being embedded with billions of tiny fibres, called “nanowhiskers”. These are waterproof and increase the density of the fabric. The Nanowhiskers can repel stains by forming a cushion of air around each cotton fibre. When something is spilled on the fabric, these whiskers actually cohesively prop up the liquid drops, allowing the liquid drops to roll off. This treatment lasts for about 50 wash cycles before the effectiveness is lost. There are some questions that are floating around in the scientific world regarding health and environmental complications from these nanoparticles. Despite their amazing properties, they have yet to win wider universal acceptance. The very qualities that make nanoparticles so valuable to technology and medical science, they are also the ones that make them potentially so toxic. Such features are potentially lethal if toxic substances attach themselves to the same nanoparticles, thereby delivering a fatal toxin through the cell membranes into the cells themselves. In the process of creating better products (for example, automobiles) improper disposal of the old parts could wreak havoc on the environment. Research is happening in order to find answers to these questions. But besides all that, one thing is clear; nanotechnology will have a huge role to play in changing the lifestyles of populations around the globe.

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