Nanotechnology III: Reality vs. Hype R. Glied, S. Kumar and N. Mohan ChE 696 ? Foundations of Nanotechnology, Fall 2006 The mass media often serves as one of the general public?s primary resources when learning about emerging technologies. Unfortunately, this can lead to propagation of misconceptions about the benefits and risks involved with a technology still in its infant stages of development, and this is readily seen with nanotechnology. There are multiple aspects of nanotechnology, though, that if brought into the public?s consciousness would provide a more solid foundation for perceptions of nanotechnology and dispel many of the unwarranted concerns surrounding its development and widespread use. Reality vs Hype: An Introduction What is nanotechnology? The definition of nanotechnology varies wildly from source to source, from those demanding atomic control of single atoms, to others stating that nanotechnology involves creating machines and circuits. It is therefore useful to define nanotechnology in a manner meaningful to this discussion, in order to develop a general understanding of nanotechnology and discuss the possible effects of nanotechnology research on the general population. In the scientific community, nanomaterials are generally considered to be any piece of matter with a dimension measuring 1-100 nm. , In this document, nanotechnology will therefore be defined by the authors as follows: Nanotechnology involves the fabrication and/or manipulation of fairly uniform pieces of matter with unique properties, with any dimension in the range 1-100 nm. These nanomaterials may be assembled into functional devices or used as-fabricated, and these application will also be included in this definition of nanotechnology. This definition of nanotechnology therefore incorporates myriad scientific and engineering fields. The problem with nanotechnology It would seem that the biggest problem facing proponents of nanotechnology is the incomplete understanding of the long-term dangers of using nanomaterials. What are the possible negative health effects of interacting with nanomaterials? What are the effects of nanomaterials and the processes used to manufacture nanomaterials on the environment? Some of the answers to these questions are fairly well understood, while some potential problems have not been explored or even imagined, for that matter. To demonstrate, consider nanomaterials in biological systems. Accumulation of nanostructures in biological systems is of major concern to both the scientific community and the general public, yet it is poorly understood even by leading scientists researching these materials. For example, the scientists investigating the accumulation of nanoparticles in lung systems concede that their findings are preliminary at best. NOTEREF _Ref150430732 \h \* MERGEFORMAT 2 , Therefore, it is not entirely unreasonable for members of the public to be suspicious of nanomaterials. Compounding the lack of information regarding realistic dangers of nanotechnology is negative propaganda, primarily driven by fearful opponents of nanotechnology who possess limited backgrounds in science. Many people today, and certainly far more people than the members of the scientific journal-reading community, use the internet as a primary source of information. Internet searches for ?nanotechnology dangers? immediately give access to websites for organizations and individuals who assert that nanotechnology will present tangible and catastrophically bad consequences if research is continued. One such organization is The Center for Responsible Nanotechnology (CRN). Among their claims against nanotechnology are problems such as ?gray goo? (destruction of massive portions (or all) of the earth by self replicating nanomachines and processes), damage to religious belief systems due to nanotechnology-driven ?miracles?, undetectable surveillance, unemployment due to labor replacement by nanomachines, and even nano-terrorism. NOTEREF _Ref150430900 \h \* MERGEFORMAT 4 Granted that the CRN does point out possible advantages of using nanotechnology, it is still the case that their advertisements for the risks associated with nanotechnology are, if not entirely ludicrous to the scientific community, at the very least entirely too ahead of the current state of nanotechnology to be plausible risks today. While not quite in its infancy, nanotechnology is at best in its early stages of technological maturation. REF _Ref150437868 \h \* MERGEFORMAT Figure 1 shows a timeline for nanotechnology research as well as necessary risk assessment levels, according to Renn et al. NOTEREF _Ref150431572 \h \* MERGEFORMAT 1 It is important to note that nanotechnology today is currently in what Renn refers to as Frames 1&2, obviously far from the self replicating machines and self assembling factories described in the fears of nanotechnology opponents. For example, numerous research groups are capable of fabricating and using nanostructures derived from various sources including but not limited to flame spray pyrolysis, , , vapor deposition, , and chemical methods. , In fact, some of the best ?nanomachines? today, of which many exist in models, consist of actuators that no-one can replicate on a massive scale, and are certainly not capable of self replication. It is even more interesting to note that ?nanotechnology? is most often found in nature, e.g. flagellae used by bacteria for locomotion, and even more commonly, kinesin motors that transport materials in living cells. This fact is rarely included in discussions by Figure SEQ Figure \* ARABIC 1 : Generations of Nanotechnology and Risk Governance. NOTEREF _Ref150431572 \h \* MERGEFORMAT 1 nanotechnology opponents. Instead, nanotechnology is portrayed as exotic and esoteric research, conducted by people who simply do not recognize the potential dangers associated with the technology (until it is too late of course). They criticize researchers on their lack of social responsibility and make doomsday predictions about the future if research continues. While it is silly to say that it is safe to ignore a potential problem because it is not likely to be a significant problem for many years to come, it is somewhat unreasonable to prevent development of technology that has the potential to be dangerous without first proving that it cannot be used safely. At the same time, mass media often exaggerates scientific results and promotes an extremely futuristic image of nanotechnology. Numerous news sources such as CNN, the BBC, and the NY Times are guilty of hyping nanotechnology research to a point where the public may be misled into believing that the potential for implementation of Frame 3 and 4 ( REF _Ref150437868 \h \* MERGEFORMAT Figure 1 ) in the near future is very real. With persuasion and influence from anti-nanotechnology groups, the general public may then overestimate the true risks associated with nanotechnology. As discussed later in this paper, new technologies typically face resistance, and only through education concerning the risks of the technology and accompanying proof that the technology is relatively safe, can an emerging technology be accepted by large portions of the population and begin to be of benefit in daily life. In addition, we will also discuss currently available nanotechnology not widely identified, but of great use in everyday life. It most likely is the case that a vast majority of people utilizing nanotechnology do not even realize it. With the knowledge that nanotechnology is already a big part of the way we live and extremely beneficial, it will help garner support for continued nanotechnology development. Nanotechnology put in perspective The number of scientific and technological failures over time greatly outnumbers the number of significant breakthroughs. However, most breakthroughs would not have been discovered if it had not been for the failures that occurred before them and the actions people have had to take as a result of those failures. Past and current nanotechnology research shows great promise in the fields of energy, the environment, health/medicine, and even daily life. Very few scientific discoveries have shown as much promise as nanotechnology and actually pulled through on all accounts. This is a starting point for skepticism and resistance to continuing nanotechnology research. For these predicted benefits, large sums of money must be devoted to developing the technology. If it turns out to be a bust, the money invested is essentially wasted dollars. Also, there is an ever-present safety concern that goes along with any new technology. It is then obvious to see that resistance to nanotechnology research is somewhat substantiated and understandable. Unfortunately, yellow journalistic practices and the hype created by mass media are responsible for creating unwarranted concerns among the general public not educated on nanotechnology. Even something like a marketing ambiguity could lead to distrust from the public regarding nanotechnology. For example, a product marketed in Germany called ?Magic Nano? caused respiratory problems in consumers that used the product. Tests later revealed that despite the name, no nanoparticles were present in the product. Despite the misnomer, there is no question that the incident increased consumers? concern over the potential hazards of any type of nanotechnology-branded product. Even though nanotechnology research is meeting these types of obstacles, the scientific community cannot give in and allow the potential for significant breakthroughs to be eliminated. A moratorium on nanotechnology research is being pushed for due to the large number of questions regarding nanotechnology that have gone unanswered. The issues posed by these questions are not absurd or unreasonable, as they force the scientific community to think about the line between public safety and public benefit, the unintended consequences of nanotechnology, and if nanotechnology is solving problems that affect a vast majority of the population. Nuclear Energy The most analogous technology to nanotechnology, which illustrates the downsides to banning research, is nuclear energy. When the benefits for nuclear power were first discovered, the entire world jumped on the nuclear energy bandwagon and nuclear power plants popped up right and left. However, nuclear disasters (Three Mile Island and Chernobyl) sparked widespread skepticism, and to a degree, panic about nuclear potential and its destructive abilities. Since then, international agencies such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have tried to institute bans on nuclear research in politically unstable states such as Iran and North Korea. The result of these bans has not been a successful curbing of nuclear technology research, but rather increased animosity and violence between the parties involved. We have reached a point where the United Nations says that North Korea must stop all nuclear testing, and North Korea responds by saying that any such ultimatum will most definitely result in more testing. Is such a stalemate desirable? Of course not. But even more importantly, a stalemate like the one we are experiencing in nuclear research can be more dangerous than an actual ban, and the same goes for nanotechnology. As Ralph Merkle puts it, a 100% ban on nanotechnology may successfully curb any negative consequences. However, a 100% ban is not desirable by any party, as no benefits of nanotechnology would be discovered. So, the next logical step to take, supposedly, would be a partial ban like the one the UN is trying to institute on North Korea and Iran. Merkle points out that a partial ban will only guarantee that the small percentage of the population not allowed to perform nanotechnology research will most definitely be conducting the research. This forces us to ask the question: How effective would a ban on nanotechnology really be? Another important point to note on this topic is the need to weigh the benefits against the risks. A successful ban on nuclear energy research in its early stages would have eliminated disasters such as the Chernobyl explosion, but also would have hindered the discovery and harnessing of nuclear power to provide more than 20% of the electricity used in the United States. Given the significant shortcomings in energy, environment, and health that will be prevalent in the not-so-distant future, one must ask if it really is smart to treat nanotechnology research the same way nuclear research was treated. As was mentioned in the introduction to this paper, nanotechnology research is not very far removed from its infancy. The full benefits and consequences are yet to be discovered, and thus there is no way for us to make a substantiated decision on how to harness the nanotechnology potential until we know more completely what that potential is. Bioengineered Foods Natural Gas X-rays Aside from the scientific breakthroughs that have come from years of intensive research, there have been many unintentional ?accidents? that resulted from pure curiosity or research being conducted towards a different goal. These accidents range from Newton?s discovery of gravity after an apple fell on his head to the discovery of Viagra, whose prescribed effects were actually side effects in research being conducted for an antihypertension drug. Due to the large amount of time, money, and research currently being put into nanotechnology research, one can say with almost complete certainty that this research will yield some unexpected results. Unexpected results may be beneficial, may be harmful, or might just be interesting discoveries. Whatever these discoveries are, they will expand and enhance our knowledge of how the world works on a molecular level, an area which is currently for the most part a black box. It is the duty of the scientific leaders developing this technology to learn from mistakes made in other technologies, such as nuclear power, but banning nanotechnology research cannot be an option; Banning nanotechnology will prevent this knowledge base from growing and prevent any significant advances nanotechnology has to offer. Nanotechnology in every day life Many people have no awareness whatsoever that their every day lives already include products of nanotechnology research. It is the technology?s transparency that hampers its widespread acceptance. With increased visibility, resistance to nanotechnology research could be lessened and the benefits of developing the technology could sooner come to use. Here are some examples of nanotechnology already present in the things we use. Nano-pants: a simple solution to a major bother In 2001 a major breakthrough in clothing was introduced to the general public. Nano-Tex was able to manufacture fabrics treated with ?nanotechnology? that repelled most liquids, with the exception of heavy oils and some organic solvents. The fabric?s properties were derived from an effect which many people are familiar with, though perhaps may not understand. Peach skins typically display water-resistant properties due to very fine fibers on their surface which trap air, effectively forming a water-resistant layer. Nano-Tex simply treated the surface of the fabric (cotton) with aligned nano-scale fibers to mimic this effect, resulting in stain and wrinkle resistant pants. Today, many retail brands sell apparel treated in a similar fashion. Nano-socks: no more stinky feet Another nanotechnology application within the clothing industry has to do with socks. ARC Outdoors came up with a way to incorporate 19 nm silver particles within their socks. Silver has long been known for its antimicrobial characteristics; the silver in the socks serves to eliminate odors and fungus, therefore keeping your feet smelling fresh. Similarly, a coating of silver nanoparticles can be applied to building materials to help keep them clean looking. Nano-appliances: proven method with new technology For appliances such as fridges and washing machines, bacterial growth is an issue. Samsung has utilized silver?s antimicrobial characteristics as well and marketed it in its line of fridges and washers. The fridge utilizes a silver nanoparticle coating inside of the compartment to prevent bacteria growth inside of the fridge. The washer has a system where silver nanoparticles are produced from an electrical current. During a wash cycle, these particles are present in the wash water. On top of disinfecting the clothes during the cycle, the ions also serve to prevent any growth within the washer for up to 30 days without additional treatment. Nano-camera: brighter displays with less energy usage Digital camera makers are continuously trying to find ways to improve their digital displays. Nanotechnology not only enables this, but also reduced power consumption as well. Kodak has utilized Organic Light Emitting Diodes (OLED?s) in their displays, which are much brighter than traditional Liquid Crystal Displays (LCD?s) and don?t require backlighting. They also have a wider viewing angle than LCD?s. The emissive layer is made up of a single layer of organic compound nanocrystals. Depending on the crystal size, they can be tuned to emit any color of the visible light spectrum. Also, a new technology released to compete with the OLED?s is also nano-based, referred to as nano-emissive displays (NED), originally introduced by Motorolla, and using carbon nanotubes to generate the display. Nano-truck: lighter, and shape is temperature independent General Motors (GM) utilizes about 7 pounds of molded-in-color nanoclay-reinforced thermoplastic olefin for one of its lines of Hummer trucks. This composite is lighter weight than previous polymers used, and it also has the added advantage of resisting shape change when subjected to different temperatures. As said by GM Staff Scientist Will Rodgers, ?The virtue of using a nanocomposite for automotive applications is that less filler material is required to provide the same or better performance characteristics when compared to conventional materials.? The weight savings is considerable, and GM has expanded the nanomaterial?s use to other product lines. Nano-cosmetics: going deeper than before Before nanotechnology, skin care products delivered the product primarily to the outer layer of the skin with little penetration, allowing little absorption in the deeper layers. Nanotechnology has changed that. L?Oreal has been using nanotechnology to incorporate vitamins inside of 100-200 nm polymer capsules. These capsules soak up and hold the skin cream until the outer shell dissolves under the skin. This type of technology can be applied to any type of cosmetic such as sunscreen, eye shadow, skin-care powder etc, in order to achieve deeper product penetration; to the base molecular layer of the skin. This nanotechnology can even come in handy when deep absorption is not desired. BASF(Badische Anilin- & Soda- Fabrik, a chemical company) has developed a nano-dispersed zinc oxide product that delivers all of the desired broad-spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays, but without the typical ?white pasty goop? feeling of traditional zinc oxide sunscreens. The nano-dispersion allows for the sunscreen to go on clear. The inorganic constituents of the cream also make the sunscreen incapable of being absorbed by the skin. Nano-sports: from golf to tennis to... If a boost is desired in your tennis game, you can turn to the nano-tennis racket. Babolat has a tennis racket that incorporates carbon nanotubes in a high modulus graphite matrix. This material is one hundred times stronger than steel, yet only one-sixth the weight. As a result, the racket is five times more rigid than other carbon rackets, and therefore transfers considerably more power into each shot. To complement the racket, nano-tennis balls are also available. These balls have a 20 micron think coating of layered sheets of clay polymer nanocomposites, each layer 1 nm thin. This reduces the permeability of the rubber inside, by increasing the gas path length between the inside and outside, making it harder for the air to escape thereby extending the tennis ball?s playable life from less than two weeks, to more than a month. Similar advantages can be realized when applying nanotechnology to golf clubs and balls, bowling balls, and baseball bats as well. What impact do these products have on nanotechnology? The fact that all of these products show up in the every day life of a typical person shows that nanotechnology is not some obscure, developing technology with little practical application. Nanotechnology has been used to improve products that show up in all aspects of life. If this technology can bring such great improvements to products we already have, it only goes to show that the opportunities for novel products are limitless. Nanotechnology can be incorporated and utilized within any industry to improve existing products and also to come up with new products. Examples were given for consumer products, clothing, building materials, coatings, but these are only the tip of the iceberg. 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