What is Nanotechnology?

Nanotechnology has numerous technical definitions relating to size scales, many of which are difficult to visualise or conceptualise. In practise, nanotechnology often deals with the organisation and manipulation of molecules to form new and useful structures. Achieving this requires knowledge and skills from a range of disciplines, including chemistry, physics, biology, and materials science.

At Flinders University, the Centre for NanoScale Science and Technology works to apply world-class research to provide solutions to the challenges facing Australia. We work in the broad areas of energy, health, security and the environment. Nanotechnology is no longer confined to research laboratories however, many advancements and discoveries have found their way into various industries restulting in a broad array of products that use nanotechnology.

 

Where can nanotechnology be found today?

  


Image source: nano&me

Sunscreen

Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide have been used in sunscreens for many years, but used to result in the classic white zinc look. By using nanoparticles of these amterials in sunscreens we retain their use as a sunscreening agent for ultraviolet light, whilst making the sunscreen transparent to visible light. This results in a sunscreen which is clear yet still protects the skin. There have been some concerns regarding the safety of these nanoparticles in sunscreen, and this is monitored by the Therapeutic Goods Association (TGA) in Australia. The TGA have completed a review of current research in January 2017 and have concluded that "on current evidence, neither TiO2 nor ZnO NPs are likely to cause harm when used as ingredients in sunscreens and when sunscreens are used as directed". Other applications include using zinco oxide nanoparticles in paints, electronics, batteries and more. 

 

Image source: Fabricor

Stain resistant clothes

So much of the food and drink we encounter each day is water based. Unfortunately, quite a lot of it is great at staining our clothes too (think sauces, coffee, wine and cordial). By modifying the surface of textiles we can make hydrophobic fabrics which result in stain resistance clothing, but because we're making these changes on the molecular scale, the fabric still looks and feels like a regular fabric. There are now multiple companies producing products from hydrophobic fabrics, including in Australia.

 

Image source: Max Pixel

Slow release drugs in medicine

The application of nanotechnology to medicine is an active area of research, and an area where products are starting to work their way into the market. One application for nanotechnology is the controlled release of drugs in the body. By encapsulating the drugs to be delivered, their release into the body can be controlled. This may mean you will be able to have longer gaps between taking tablets, perhaps taking a tablet once per day rather than every few hours.

 

Image source: Max Pixel

Electronics

You may have heard of Moore's Law, the rule which states that the number of transistors on a computer chip doubles every two years. This has been held to be true over the last 30 years or so, resulting in computer chips now relying on nanotechnology in their production. The Intel® Xeon® processor, released early 2017, has size features as small as 14 nanometres (in comparison, this is about the length your fingernails grow in 10 seconds, based on this average growth rate of fingernails).

Nanotechnology research at Flinders University