Nanoscience will overtake all present forms of technology

By Fakir Balaji, IANS

Visakhapatnam : All forms of technology, including information technology and biotechnology, will become passé with the advent of nanoscience, says Nobel laureate Robert Curl Junior.

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It is a precursor to the next wave of pervasive technology, he says.

Strange as it may seem, nanoscience and its manifested form, nanotechnology, the latest buzzword in the 21st century, is not something new.

“Nanotechnology is as old as humankind, having evolved over billion years as a natural phenomenon,” Curl says.

“In the medieval period (around 1550), nanotechnology was used in making arms without knowing it in the sense we understand. For instance, Damascus steel used by Arabs to make swords was produced with nano materials. The swords were unique, as they would display different patterns in light,” Curl said at the 95th Indian Science Congress (ISC) here Sunday.

“Interestingly, Tipu Sultan, the 18th century king of Mysore in southern Karnataka, had a sword made of Damascus steel, a hot-forged metal used in sword-making with its particles in microns – one-millionth of a metre. India, however, stopped making such swords since then,” the Nobel laureate said.

“In 2006, a group of scientists headed by German physicist Peter Paufler found direct evidence of nanotubes and nanowires in Tipu Sultan’s sword forged from Damascus steel. The complex process of forging and annealing is thought to have accounted for the nano-scale structures used in the process,” Curl recalled in his presentation on “Development of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology” on the penultimate day of the event.

As a phrase, nanotechnology came into use in 1974 when Japanese scientist Norio Taniguchi coined it to describe precision making. It came into vogue in 1986 with the publication of “Engine of Creations: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology” by K. Eric Drexler.

The concept of nanotechnology was explained by American physicist Richard Feynmann in a seminal paper in 1966 called “There is plenty at the bottom”. It was applied extensively in chip design and manufacture, which led to the shrinkage of computers from room size to laptop.

Subsequently, the increasing use of nano materials in microprocessors (chips) for various electronic devices from computers to mobile phones has upheld Moore’s law, wherein the power of microprocessor doubles and its cost of production halves every 18 months.

“Going forward, nano materials such as carbon nanotubes will be used in areas spanning electronics, healthcare, solar cells, light harvesting and composites,” Curl predicted.

“Nanotechnology can also be used for environmental protection by deploying it in manufacturing, disposal, transportation and exposure.”

Curl, a 74-year-old American, won the Nobel Prize in 1996 in chemistry with Sir Harold W. Kroto and Richard E Smalley for the discovery of Fullerenes, a form of carbon allotropes, named after American engineer Richard Buckminister Fuller, who in 1949 built the geodesic dome, one of the largest structures in the world without columns or wall support.

For mass applications such as healthcare, nanoscience and nanotechnology would have a critical role in developing application to cure cancer, as evident from the results in the case of tests done on mice, Curl pointed out.

“nanoscience holds great prospects for augmenting medical therapy, especially in drugs delivery at targeted points.”