1. What is nanotechnology?

Include examples (3-4) to demonstrate the range
of possible applications (current and future). Ensure that you explain why
nano-scale materials have advantages over other materials.
 DEFINITION: Engineering of functional systems at the molecular scale.
 The orientation of molecule determines the object’s properties
Nanotechnology, as its name suggests, is the science of really tiny matter. A
nanometre (nm) is one billionth of a meter, which is like a hundred-thousandth
the width of a human hair. To put it into perspective, if the diameter of a
marble is one nanometre, then the diameter of the Earth would be one metre.
However, what makes nanotechnology truly prospecting is the mysterious
laws of quantum mechanics. Scientists have found that the behaviour of
materials at the nanoscale differ, or can potentially differ, to when the
material is in bulk form, sometimes to the point where it contradicts the laws
of classical physics. For example, in real life, you can’t walk up to a wall and
immediately teleport to the other side of it, but at the nanoscale an electron
can, through a process called electron tunnelling.
Hence, with this new discovery of nanomaterials and quantum mechanics, it
opens up an endless amount of possibilities for scientists to create more
improved, powerful, devices and structures. Below are examples of the
application of nanotechnology in various fields, including current and future
In Medicine:
Nanotechnology in tissue regeneration –
The human body possesses an enormous and persistent ability to heal itself;
regardless of whether it’s an illness or injury, the cells in our body will
continue to endlessly work to bring itself back to a natural state of
homeostasis and equilibrium. Hence, when we turn to medicines of physical
manipulations of our body’s system to heal us, we are really only facilitating
our body’s natural ability to heal from within. Now, with the rapid growth of
nanotechnology, researchers have started to develop more ways to speed up
this healing process of our body, in particular, for tissue regeneration.
Take cartilage, for example. Cartilage is a type of connective tissue found in
the joints between bones, which flexible and elastic material helps to prevent
bones from rubbing against each other. When we tear a piece of cartilage
(such as in a severe knee injury), the cartilage will eventually heal itself.
However, not only is this process slow, but the repair generally does not follow
exactly where the knee tissue used to be too. This occurs because cartilage
does not contain any blood vessels, thus the only way new cells are able to
get to the wound area is through diffusion, a process that is both time
consuming and results in cell placement inaccuracy. As a result, over the
years, a knee may still continue to hurt from an old cartilage injury.
One of the popular methods used nowadays to treat cartilage injuries is a
process called Autologous chondrocyte implantation (ACI). In this treatment,

the surgeon harvests a small piece of cartilage from the patient and then
extracts the chondrocytes (cartilage-producing cells) from the sample. These
cells are then enzymatically treated so that they can expand and multiply over
a period of 6-8 weeks. After that, these chondrocytes are reinjected back into
the wound to produce new cartilage. Unfortunately, while ACI does boast a
high success rate of 85%, it remains a very tedious process, as the patient has
to spend another 6 months recovering before returning to any light sporting
activities, or 9-12 months before return to full sport activities.1
Now, with the power of nanotechnology, a team of researchers have managed
to develop a new piece of technology to counter this problem: biodegradable
carbon nanofiber spheres. Using these microspheres as support structures,
medics are able to place individual cells into their hollows before injecting
them into the wound, which allows for better accuracy and faster healing rates
(these microspheres are specifically engineered to provide an environment
where the cells are able to thrive). Furthermore, they are also highly porous,
which allows nutrients to enter more easily.
In Consumer Products
Nanotechnology in sunscreen
Unlike in medicine, where the use of nanotechnology is still relatively recent,
many consumer product manufacturers have incorporated nanoparticles into
their products since the late 90’s to improve their quality and effectiveness. In
fact, to date, the Consumer Products Inventory lists over 1600 products that
have been identified as containing nanoparticles. An example of this is
There are two main compounds found in sunscreen that result in its sun
protection capabilities: titanium dioxide (TiO 2) and zinc oxide (ZnO). In terms
of effectiveness, titanium dioxide offers good protection against ultraviolet-B
(UVB) rays, whereas zinc oxide is more effective at blocking ultra-violet A
(UVA) rays. However, a similarity that they share is that in their bulk form,
these two ingredients (especially zinc oxide) have a white, chalky appearance,
due to the tendency of their particles to reflect visible light.
This then is where nanotechnology becomes useful.
As mentioned before, when elements or compounds are manufactured into
nanoparticles, they start to behave differently. Instead of directly reflecting
visible light, nanoparticles of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are able to
absorb and then scatter the light, which results in a more transparent
appearance when applied onto the skin. Furthermore, according to CSIRO
researcher Megan Osmond-McLeod, using nanoparticles of zinc oxide also
makes the sunscreen feel “lighter” on the skin.
Unfortunately, due to their dynamic and unique behaviour, nanoparticles still
need to be constantly retested and re-evaluated in order to identify and
prevent any health risks/side effects that they may present. According to the
1 Washington University Orthopedics, W 2013, Autologous Chondrocyte Implantation, Washington

University in St Louis: School of Medicine, accessed 10 October 2014,

Environmental Working Group, even seemingly trivial features such as the
shape and size of nanoparticles can have an effect on their sun-protecting
properties. Apparently, the smaller the nanoparticles are, the higher the SPF
protection, but the lower the UVA protection. This, in other words, means that
while they will reduce the likelihood of sunburns (which are caused by UVB
rays), they will also increase the chances of receiving deeper skin damage
(which is caused by UVA rays).
Hence, manufacturers must be careful when producing these types of
products in order to strike the correct balance and prevent any negative
health implications.
Nanotechnology for the Environment
Phosphorus recovery
Phosphorus (P), most commonly known as the 15th element on the Periodic
Table, is an essential mineral for all living systems. It can be found in the
backbone of DNA and RNA, and plays a vital role in the transmitting of genetic
information and protein synthesis. However, while phosphorus is a useful tool
to encourage organism growth (for example in crop development), it can also
have negative consequences when not needed. In fact, one of the major
environmental problems currently faced by many aquatic ecosystems is the
overconcentration of phosphorus in water system (this results in a problem
known as eutrophication).
When there is an excess of nutrients in a body of water, algae growth
increases exponentially, sometimes to the point where the surface algae
prevent light penetration. Then, as a result of this lack of light, the lower
layers of algae will start to die and decay within the water. This rapid decay
lowers the dissolved oxygen in the water, which causes the death of fish and
various other aquatic organisms. Soon, other abiotic features such as the pH
level of the water will change dramatically too, resulting in a major unbalance
in the environment.
On the other hand, in some places around the world, such as Australia, the
extensively weathered soils are low in phosphorus and actually require the
mineral in order to maintain agricultural prosperity. Consequently, farmers
often have to supplement the soils with fertilisers containing the mineral,
which can be rather costly, as phosphorus is a finite resource that cannot be
produced in a laboratory. Hence, one of the new projects the Australian
Government is currently working on is to use nanotechnology to develop a
way to capture the phosphorus present in water systems and then transfer the
mineral into agricultural sectors. If successful, this plan will extremely valuable
both economically and environmentally, as not only will it reduce the
eutrophication problem, but also greatly cut the expenses involved with the
production of phosphorus-rich fertilisers.



Nanotechnology Ethics
“With great power comes great responsibility”
As demonstrated with the examples above, nanotechnology is a


Bonsor, Kevin, and Jonathan Strickland. "How Nanotechnology Works" 25 October 2007.
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2. How should we as individuals, society and governments respond to the
incredible pace at which nanotechnology is advancing?
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