Nanoscience involves studying the application of things that scale between 1 and 100 nanometers. In this field of study, scientists and engineers purposefully manipulate individual atoms and molecules to create nanotechnology, which operates at a microscopic level. This process is used to produce materials with enhanced properties, like higher durability with less physical mass.
The following examples highlight the extent to which incorporating nanotechnology into a product can improve its functionality.
Carbon Nanotube Body Armor
Functional bulletproof materials are essential for law enforcement officers and military personnel, who are at high risk of facing gunfire. Bulletproof vests disperse a bullet’s force across a larger area than the point of impact, preventing it from penetrating the wearer’s body.
Nanotechnology is currently being tested as an effective means of enhancing traditional bullet-resistant materials, like Kevlar. While Kevlar may stop a bullet from penetrating, a large amount of energy still transfers to the wearer, causing blunt force trauma. Steel or ceramic plating has been used to counter this in the past, but engineers have found that introducing nano-scale carbon tubes into Kevlar materials is another way to bolster its ability to prevent blunt trauma from bullets and blades.
Surface Protection Materials
Nano surface protection materials use nanomaterials to create ultra-thin protective layers that fortify surfaces to which they are applied. Nanorepel uses a fine coating of pure quartz-glass, which is resistant to temperature and corrosive materials, to enhance surface flexibility and elasticity, prevent stress damage. Similar products may offer anti-adhesive properties as well, which can make it easier to remove dirt, stains, and oily substances from surfaces.
Solar power allows people to harness electricity from the sun without directly creating waste, but the process of creating solar cells is energy-intensive and can produce large amounts of waste. Photovoltaic solar cells are made using layers of expensive crystalline silicon that are treated using caustic chemicals, so researchers have been searching for ways to lower the cost of producing efficient solar cells through nanotechnology. The Graetzel cell, which uses a layer of material coated with highly porous titanium dioxide nanoparticles as its surface material instead of silicon, is less expensive to produce and allows cells to collect the sun’s rays across a wider surface area.
Food products and packaging
Nanoscientists are developing new techniques to precisely tailor the smallest particles of food to provide a specific taste, texture, and nutrient density. For instance, if a company wants to make their mayonnaise thinner, they could replace a portion of the fat content of each particle of mayonnaise with water content.
Some companies are researching ways to improve perishable product packaging using nanotechnology. SABMiller, a beer brewing company, incorporates flaky clay nanoparticles in their plastic beer bottles. These tiny clay particles fill up more space in the walls of the bottle than plastic nanoparticles, and they make it difficult for gases to escape or enter the beer bottle, ensuring that it retains the optimal flavor longer.
Transdermal administration delivers a solution into the bloodstream through an individual’s skin. Transdermal patches typically deliver a specific dosage of medication after being placed onto a person’s skin, allowing patients to avoid painful injections and gastrointestinal complications caused by ingesting the medicine.
Until recently, the medications that could be administered via transdermal patches have been limited to those that have molecules small enough to penetrate the skin. Nanotechnology engineers are exploring ways that microneedles – small needles ranging in size from 100 to 1,000 micrometers long – can be incorporated into transdermal patches to solve this problem. The needles are affixed to a transdermal patch and painlessly penetrate the top layer of the user’s skin, helping denser drugs to pass into the bloodstream. Through nanoelectronics engineering, these patches could also be equipped with pumps that allow the patient or physician to dictate medicine delivery and dosage.
Bandages are normally applied to protect wounds from further contamination, but engineers are now studying new ways to enhance their antimicrobial properties using nanotechnology. Incorporating noble metals, which have natural antimicrobial properties, into bandages has been proven to help combat bacterial infections.
Since silver disrupts the growth of bacteria by blocking its metabolism, engineers have developed ways to create bandages with silver nanoparticles woven right into them. These bandages are commonly used to dress injuries that are resistant to treatment and prone to infection, like burn wounds.
Nanotechnology allows people to alter materials at their most basic level. Organic and inorganic products can be improved using this technology, but it takes an advanced education to gain an actionable understand the fundamental aspects of nanoscience. Through a master’s of electrical engineering, engineers can deepen their comprehension of how effective nano-sized electronic components are designed, manufactured, and used.
At Ohio University’s Russ College of Engineering and Technology, graduates of the online Master of Science in Electrical Engineering program are equipped with the skills to research, design, develop, and test new technologies and industry applications — and position themselves as leaders.
Discover Magazine, “The 9 Best Nanotechnology-Powered Products”
PHYS.org, “Pre-treatment of bandages may improve the antibacterial properties of nanoparticles”
National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network, “What is the Product Curad® Silver Bandages”
The National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network, “Nanotechnology Products”
The Guardian, “What you need to know about nano-food”