Science

The importance of nanotechnology

In modern times nanotechnology has become increasingly important. It has many uses from developing sports equipment to medical applications. There are however some concerns about its use.

Nanotechnology

The use and control of tiny matter is called nanotechnology. The tiny matter is referred to as nanoparticles.

These particles are measured in nanometres (nm). A nanometre is one billionth of a metre (0.000 000 001m). Nanotechnology is concerned with the use and control of structures that are 1-100 nanometres in size.

Some of these nanoparticles occur naturally, for example in volcanic ash. Some occur by accident, for example during the combustion of fuels. Many occur by design.

Properties of nanoparticles

Nanoparticles of a material show different properties compared to larger particles of the same material. Forces of attraction between surfaces can appear to be weak on a larger scale, but on a nanoscale they are strong.

One reason for this is the surface area to volume ratio. In nanoparticles this is very large. Atoms on the surface of a material are often more reactive than those in the centre, so a larger surface area means the material is more reactive.

Nanoparticles

Nanoparticles have more surface area to volume than larger particles.

The diagram shows this idea. The cube on the left has the same volume as the smaller cubes added together on the right. However, the total surface area is much larger for the smaller cubes.

Use of nanoparticles

Nanoparticles are used in products that are currently available.

  • sports equipment: nanoparticles are added to materials to make them stronger whilst often being lighter. They have been used in tennis rackets, golf clubs and shoes
  • clothing: silver nanoparticles have been added to socks. This stops them from absorbing the smell of sweaty feet as the nanoparticles have antibacterial properties
  • healthcare: nanoparticles are used in sunscreens. They offer protection and can be rubbed in so there are no white marks.

Harmful effects

There are some concerns that nanoparticles may be toxic to people. They may be able to enter the brain from the bloodstream and cause harm. Some people think more tests should take place before nanoparticles of a material are used on a wider scale.

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