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An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come. — Victor Hugo

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 platforms

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 undesirable by-products.......more on next page


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