Technology > What are nanotechnologies?
Nanotechnologies copy nature and help defend it …
Leaves, insects, and flowers “work” with microscopic mechanisms and technology has been trying to imitate them for years. Welcome to the nanoworld…
Man imitates the nature of leaves, insects, and flowers to create materials that, while measuring a few billionths of a meter (i.e. nanometers), are capable of producing energy by polluting less, turning on screens without using electricity, creating surfaces that do not get dirty and work wonders in many other sectors, from medicine to mechanics.
Here is the world of nanotechnologies, that is, those techniques for manipulating and modifying matter with extremely high precision.
Nanotechnologies: THE NANOCARS
When we are sick we take medicines, in the future, we will take them before we get sick. To make this dream come true, scientists are studying “nanocars”, a kind of car of a few nanometers (a hundred thousand times thinner than a hair ), capable of transporting medicines into our body, right where the disease is about to develop.
Obviously, the nano cars do not use gasoline, they move thanks to stimuli such as an increase in the temperature or acidity of the body. Just like, for example, the fullerene nano car does. It is a “car”, just 3 nanometers large, whose wheels are made of four spherical molecules of fullerene C60, around a substance like a soccer ball.
The increase in temperature of the human body creates chemical reactions that make the fullerene move: in practice, it is as if a real car moves thanks to the rise in the temperature of the asphalt! So, one day, thanks to fullerene we will be able to fill the “trunk” of these nanocars with medicines and we will have … nanoambulances!
Nanotechnologies: SOLAR CELLS LIKE LEAVES
The sunlight gives energy to the leaves and these, with photosynthesis, produce the sugars that give the plant the sustenance to live. The extraordinary thing is that the leaves absorb the light and convert it into energy without polluting it.
Man has studied this system and today he manufactures artificial leaves which, from light, derive clean electricity. This is the case of dye solar cells, a particular type of semi-transparent and colored cells that, thanks to complex dye molecules capable of mimicking the photosynthesis of plants, produce electrons when they are illuminated.
The dye molecules cover an intertwining of titanium dioxide nanocrystals capable of collecting electrons and, thanks to a special circuit, generate electricity to recharge a smartphone or turn on modern LED bulbs.
Nanotechnologies: SELF-CLEANING MACHINES
But it is not only photosynthesis that serves as an inspiration for the new frontiers of technology.
Lotus leaves, for example, are “superhydrophobic”: water rolls off their surface without soaking them. And so, when it rains, the drops of water incorporate the dust and dirt deposited and drag them away, leaving the leaf clean, a fundamental condition for allowing it to carry out photosynthesis. This occurs thanks to nanometric roughness on the surface of the leaf, which prevents water from adhering.
By recreating this kind of roughness with nanotechnologies, man has already managed to build glass that does not get dirty and cars that do not get muddy.
Nanotechnologies: PHOTONIC CRYSTALS
Can a transparent material become colored without being painted? Nature tells us yes. The Charidotella egregia beetle has a transparent shell made up of hundreds of very thin nanometer layers, which can change the color of the reflected light.
Similarly, nanotechnologies can also change the way light interacts with materials; thus, by alternating transparent layers just 50-150 nanometers thick, photonic crystals are obtained, devices capable of reflecting only one color at a time. Just like with the beetle armor.
The reflected color depends on many things but, above all, on the thickness of the photonic crystal layers: when we are able to build photonic crystals of variable thickness we will be able to build screens (of TVs, smartphones, tablets …) that work with reflected light. That is, without consuming electricity.
Nanotechnologies: ECOLOGICAL VOCATION
Nanotechnologies can help humans by also improving the functionality of materials.
Let’s think for example of bio-plastics: they are obtained by modifying the fibers of vegetables such as carrots or parsley and since they do not contain oil, they are biodegradable and pollute very little.
Then there are thermoelectric materials, which transform heat into electric current, and special inks capable of conducting electricity: thanks to them it is possible to print computer circuits directly on the skin and create … the bionic man!
In short, at the moment it seems that nano-technologies, like fantasy, have no limits. And, if used well, they will help us build a healthier, cleaner, more connected, and, why not, even more, fun world.
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