Nanotechnology is an emerging field in which new devices are being developed at the scale of individual molecules. The term “nano” comes from “nanometer”, which is one-billionth of a meter, or one ten thousandth of the diameter of a human hair. This scale is so small that it is difficult to imagine, and it was not until recently that these structures could be measured. This capability has led to an explosion of new applications.
A recent report of the World Technology Evaluation Center (WTEC) offers the following perspective: “Nanotechnology has been recognized as a revolutionary field of science and technology, comparable to the introduction of electricity, biotechnology, and digital information revolutions. Between 2001 and 2008, the numbers of discoveries, inventions, nanotechnology workers, R&D funding programs, and markets all increased by an average annual rate of 25 percent. The worldwide market for products incorporating nanotechnology reached about $254 billion in 2009. … Because of new generations of nanotechnology products expected to enter the market within the next few years, (this trend) is expected to continue.” [“Nanotechnology Research Directions for Societal Needs in 2020 – Retrospective and Outlook”, WTEC Report (2010)].
One of the most promising aspects of nanotechnology is that the properties of materials can change dramatically as their size is reduced to the nanoscale. For example, an inert material such as gold becomes reactive when it exists as nanoparticles. Such changes in the properties of materials can lead to new applications and this promise will drive the technologies of the future.
Changes to the properties of materials at the nanoscale can also lead to unforeseen increases in toxicity to humans and the environment. The toxicity of synthetic or engineered nanomaterials is largely unexplored and could have long-term effects on society if it is not managed properly.
Fortunately, Nature has already solved this potential problem and has produced marvellous nanostructures and nanoparticles that are non-toxic. This is the basis for the PhytoSpherix® technology offered by Mirexus.