Types of nanotechnology: definition and examples

Nanotechnology is part of the new generation of innovation, sometimes called the “ new industrial revolution ”. The science and technology behind it will help transform various sectors, including aerospace, energy, information technology, medicine, national defense, and transportation .

In this post, we talk with Dr. Mariana Arce, professor in the Degree in Physics and the Degree in Biomedical Engineering , about the types of nanotechnology, the development of nanotechnology and its future .

What is nanotechnology?

Nanotechnology is a concept that is used to define the sciences and techniques that are applied at the nanoscale (from 1 to 100 nanometers).

The idea of ??nanoscience was born in the last century by the physicist Richard Feynman, who spoke of nanotechnology as the process of being able to manipulate and control atoms and molecules individually . Although the term nanotechnology was used for the first time in 1974 by the Japanese Norio Taniguchi.

The improvement of new techniques suitable for working in the appropriate size such as a scanning tunnel microscope (STM) or Atomic Forces microscope (AFM) allowed the birth of nanotechnology that is strongly developed from this century where a true expansion of nanotechnology.

How many types of nanotechnology are there? Is it used in various sectors?

There are two approaches to the production of nanomaterials, structures, devices and systems: top-down or bottom-up . The first refers to the reduction of the size of mechanisms and structures that are miniaturized to the nanometric scale. It is widely used in the field of electronics. The second refers to the construction of structures from smaller elements. You start with a nanometric structure, like a molecule, and through an assembly or self-assembly process, you create a larger structure or mechanism. This process is more commonly used in the field of biomedicine .

Nanotechnology promises solutions to multiple problems that humanity is currently facing, such as environmental, ecological or health .

How is it applied to medicine? Can you give us an example?

Nanotechnology applied to medicine is being applied in various fields and continues to grow day by day. In medicine there is a great development that allows solving problems that until now were insurmountable.

There are many drugs with solubility problems that do not reach the desired site of action. With nano transporters capable of carrying these poorly soluble drugs, it would be possible to reach the site of action where they should act. In this way, drugs that cannot be used due to their nature are transported to the area where they are most needed. The best-known example these days are vaccines based on messenger RNA technology, such as those that currently exist against COVID-19 . Ribonucleic acid (RNA) is encapsulated in nanoparticles that act as vectors. These nanoparticles protect RNA and transport it to cells where it is needed.

Another clear example is nanotechnology applied to the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. A neurodegenerative disease that with the increase in life expectancy has multiplied the number of people who suffer from it. Current drugs only alleviate symptoms once the disease has advanced. The big problem with this disease is that the design of drugs is complicated because they have to cross the blood-brain barrier, which serves to protect the brain from toxins, but also prevents the drugs from accessing the site of action, which in this case is the brain. With nanotechnology, drugs are being developed that manage to cross and reach the site of action.

What is the future of nanotechnology? How will it develop in the next few years?

The future is very promising, from the field of biomedicine, engineering or ecology. New materials based on carbon nanostructures make it possible to reduce the size of the devices. These nanostructures have presented similar or better properties than many traditional materials , being able to improve for the use of batteries that accumulate photovoltaic energy or as vectors for drugs.

In addition, in the field of ecology it can serve for the prevention of pollution and detection of pollutants. Filters with nanoparticles that manage to trap toxic particles before they reach the environment.

On the other hand, the development of new methodologies such as CRISPR / Cas9, for which Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2020, allows a protein to be directed to the area chosen by DNA and cut. With this methodology, genetic diseases that until now were incurable can be “repaired” .

There are a wide variety of examples and fields where nanotechnology is currently being applied and its development is being exponential. Many call it the “new industrial revolution.” We will continue to pay attention to what happens to us because it is the future.