The science around nanotech is about as new as science gets, but humans have been using nanotech for at least 2600 years. How is that possible? Well, let’s get started with what nanotech is, how nanoscience came about and how nanotech is reshaping lives day in and day out.
November 11, 2019 by Bailey T.
Nanotech is super small
Nanotech is the technology of the application of extremely small things. How small? Well, for example, there are 25 million nanometers in an inch. Hard to imagine! Would you believe that a sheet of newspaper is 100,000 nanometers thick? Incredible. A nanometer is so small that it’s the equivalent of how long an average man’s beard grows in the time it takes him to lift the razor to his face!
Because nanoparticles are so tiny, they can be used to transform the way materials interact with each other. For example, a nanoparticle-coated container can cause the fluid it contains to pour out more completely--leaving less waste. Or, nanoparticles can be mixed into fluid so the fluid is more resistant to the container. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We’ll get into the details of how nanoparticles are changing the way we manufacture materials, invent medical devices, transfer electricity and more, later in this article.
The engineering of nanotech is complex. Isolating nanoparticles is no easy task. Getting isolated nanoparticles into applications where they can be useful is even more complicated. But for those applications where engineers have succeeded in isolating and applying nanoparticles, humanity benefits from better materials, more efficient manufacturing and even quicker healing of the body.
Nanotech history--it’s new-ish
The term “nano-technology” was first used by Norio Taniguchi, a professor at Tokyo University of Science in 1974. But prior to that, the concept of creating nanoparticles was first introduced in 1959 by physicist Richard Feynman. He described the possibility of forming nanoparticles by directly manipulating atoms. In 1986, inspired by Feynman, K. Eric Drexler used the term “nanotechnology” in his book Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology.
The mid 1980s heralded major developments that allowed scientists to actually see, and eventually manipulate, atomic bonds. Additionally, the discovery of fullerenes opened the door for the first recognized nanoparticles and their theoretical use for electronics and computing.
The discoveries were significant enough to gain the attention of government and industry and by the early 2000s nanotechnology was becoming a major target of investment.
Since that time, carbon nanotubes have been discovered in the microstructure of wootz steel--which was manufactured in India as early as 600BC and exported globally. The steel was created by heating black magnetite ore with bamboo leaves inside a sealed crucible in a charcoal furnace. This removed the slag and formed carbon nanotubes and cementite nanowires--super strong high-carbon steel that transformed tools and weapons of the day.
Nanoparticles have also been identified as being used to create a glittering effect on pots by ancient Mesopotamian artisans. More recently, in the middle ages, artisans added copper, silver salts, oxides, vinegar, ochre and clay to the surface of pottery to create the glimmering appearance of gold, without having to use real gold.
So while the actual discovery of nanoparticles had to wait until the invention of advanced modern microscopes, the use of nanoparticles in tools and materials has literally been around for thousands of years.
The Who’s Who of Nanotech History
Richard Fynman (1959) — described developing a process of manipulating individual atoms to form useful structures and tools at the nano-level
Norio Taniguchi (1974) — uses the term “Nano-technology” to describe semiconductor processes
Harry Croto, Richard Smalley, Robert Curl (1985) — discovery of fullerenes
Eric Drexler (1986) — uses the term “nanotechnology” in describing nanoscale assembler tools
Donald Huffman, Wolfgang Kraetschmer (1990) — developed techniques for simple production of large quantities of fullerenes
Sumio Iijima (1991) — discovery of carbon nanotubes
One of the major events driving investment into nanotechnology was the discovery and method of production of single-walled carbon nanotubes--which have remarkable conducting properties. The application of carbon nanotubes has been a compelling concept for computing and all major companies (e.g., IBM, NEC) in the computing industry have invested heavily in nanotech research and development.
The promise of nanotechnology has been so compelling that the United States federal government established the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) to invest federal funds into nanotech. Major research universities are leveraging NNI investment for research and development as well as marketing, training and introducing nanotech-based products for commercial and public benefit.
Celebrating it’s 15-year anniversary, the NNI has facilitated thousands of products being developed and brought to market.
What products are built with nanotech?
The early days of nanotech product development were primarily focused on innovations in materials science. As mentioned earlier, nanotech coatings and additives have been popular for transporting liquids, creating hydrophobic surfaces (surfaces that repel water and other liquids) and modifying liquids to repel container surfaces.
In addition, early examples of products using nanotech include sunscreen (titanium dioxide and zinc oxide), cosmetics, food products, food packaging, disinfectants and antibacterial surfaces that are now available on washing machines, refrigerators, air conditioners and vacuum cleaners.
Materials science continues to evolve thanks to nanotechnology and many commonly-used household items are now lasting longer and performing better. For example, tennis balls now last longer, golf balls fly straighter, bowling balls are more durable. Clothing infused with nanotechnology lasts longer and keeps people cooler in warm climates.
Electronics and computing devices perform better and are produced cheaper thanks to nanotechnology. Ultrafast transmission of information via laser light pulses has been made possible by the design of nanowires.
Fuel additives created with platinum nanotechnology are delivering more fuel-efficient performance and cleaner exhaust for diesel engines.
Bandages infused with silver nanoparticles are reported to help cuts heal faster.
Tissue scaffolding--for supporting bone growth--has been designed using nanostructures that occur naturally in the body.
Now, hundreds of new nanotech applications and products are introduced every year in consumer goods, foods, aerospace, military, construction, healthcare and electronics industries.
Nanotech and Kailo
Kailo uses nanotechnology designed to support healthy nervous system response. The concept, originally developed for antenna technology, leverages nanoparticles that can hold and pass electric pulses.
The technology that Kailo has been built on was conceptualized as a more effective way to send and receive signals. In some early explorations of the technology, scientists considered that a nanoparticle slurry might actually be painted on any surface to transform that surface into an antenna. These nanotech antennas could change trees into WiFi hotspots or the sides of buildings into communication towers. The technology continues to be developed and many antenna applications have been implemented and are currently being sold on the market.
Kailo was developed following other nanotech products for pain. Its developers innovated product design by restructuring capacitor placement and adding polycarbonate coating that improves effectiveness--part of what makes Kailo so popular.
Kailo is durable, flexible, waterproof and designed to improve the way signals travel within the nervous system. With hundreds of thousands of Kailo patches sold, not one customer has reported harmful side effects.