An invasion of
armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come. —
Although the idea that materials and devices could be manipulated
at an extraordinarily small scale was envisaged in the 1950s, it
began to be seriously pursued only in the eighties. Today,
Nanotechnology — the word used to describe such an approach —
already has significant applications and commercial impacts, with
a projected worldwide market size of over $1 trillion annually, in
the next 10 to 15 years!
Originally coined by K. Eric Drexler, Founder-Chairman of the
Foresight Institute (US), in his book ‘Engines of Creation’, the
term Nanotechnology is used to describe an interdisciplinary field
wherein the critical dimensions of materials, devices and systems
are in the nanometer (10-9 m) scale. At the nanoscale, all streams
of science converge towards the same principles and tools.
Consequently, progress in nanoscience is expected to have
far-reaching impacts and revolutionize the creation of materials
in unprecedented ways.
The present article outlines the relevance of Nanotech-nology and
provides a glimpse of the multi-faceted research that is underway
at IIT Bombay in this field.
Impact of Nanotechnology
Encompassing almost every sphere of human life, the impact of
advances in Nanotechnology will be felt in a host of areas
including: industrial manufacturing, electronics and
communication, healthcare services, transportation and space
exploration, energy and environment, agriculture, and defence.
Far beyond being just another step towards miniaturization, the
nanoscale represents a
whole new dimension wherein substances
begin to exhibit novel properties, as compared to their bulk
counterparts — a fact that is exploited for the manufacture of
novel devices, for a host of applications ranging from information
storage to biomedical engineering. Such nanoproducts are lighter,
stronger and more precise in functionality, and allow for reduced
life-cycle costs through lower failure rates.
The exponential growth in microelectronics and VLSI — enshrined in
Moore’s Law — has revolutionized the computer and communications
industry. In the realm of electronics, the radical scaling down of
microelectronic, magnetic, and optical devices has enhanced our
capacity to store, process, and transmit information. Silicon
based nano-fabrication has been extended from integrated circuits
to micro-mechanical mirror arrays, assay chips for gene expression
and even the realization of entire systems-on-a-chip!
The realization of yet another 'wild idea' is the 'injection of
the surgeon into the blood vessel', envisioned by Nobel Laureate
physicist Richard Feynman in 1959. The use of nano-fabricated
devices will transform medicine and healthcare. Apart from
facilitating drug usage, nanotechnology can provide new routes for
drug delivery, and novel formulations that are high-performance
and biocompatible in nature.
Nanocomposites and nanoelectronics will yield lighter, safer, and
more fuel-efficient vehicles. Simultaneously, they will result in
reliable and cost-effective roads, runways, and pipelines. Nano-devices
and sensors will help in the condition monitoring of bridges, rail
systems, and other infrastructure. The current cost of
transporting payloads into space is over $20,000 per kilogram.
Nanotechnology will help in creating lighter, stronger and
thermally stable materials for aircrafts, rockets and exploratory
From high-efficiency fuel cells including hydrogen storage in
carbon nanotubes to removal of ultra-fine fuel contaminants using
mesoporous molecular sieves, nanotechnology will enable more
efficient storage and utilization of energy. Nanoscale
semiconductors used in the preparation of light emitting diodes (LEDs)
and solar cells, can reduce worldwide consumption of energy and
thereby, carbon emission.
Nanotechnology based devices will also enable the de-salination
process of seawater at a fraction of the energy required by
reverse osmosis or distillation methods. A cleaner environment may
be achieved through control of emissions, removal of air and water
contaminants, and new technologies that minimize the generation of
on next page