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The History of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology: From Chemical–Physical Applications to Nanomedicine

Samer bayda.

1 Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Sciences, Jinan University, Tripoli 818, Lebanon

Muhammad Adeel

2 Pathology Unit, Centro di Riferimento Oncologico di Aviano (CRO) IRCCS, 33081 Aviano, Italy; [email protected]

3 PhD School in Science and Technology of Bio and Nanomaterials, University Ca’ Foscari of Venice, 30170 Venice, Italy

Tiziano Tuccinardi

4 Department of Pharmacy, University of Pisa, 56126 Pisa, Italy; [email protected]

Marco Cordani

5 Instituto Madrileño de Estudios Avanzados en Nanociencia (IMDEA Nanociencia), 28049 Madrid, Spain; [email protected]

Flavio Rizzolio

6 Department of Molecular science and Nanosystems, University Ca’ Foscari of Venice, 30170 Venice, Italy

Nanoscience breakthroughs in almost every field of science and nanotechnologies make life easier in this era. Nanoscience and nanotechnology represent an expanding research area, which involves structures, devices, and systems with novel properties and functions due to the arrangement of their atoms on the 1–100 nm scale. The field was subject to a growing public awareness and controversy in the early 2000s, and in turn, the beginnings of commercial applications of nanotechnology. Nanotechnologies contribute to almost every field of science, including physics, materials science, chemistry, biology, computer science, and engineering. Notably, in recent years nanotechnologies have been applied to human health with promising results, especially in the field of cancer treatment. To understand the nature of nanotechnology, it is helpful to review the timeline of discoveries that brought us to the current understanding of this science. This review illustrates the progress and main principles of nanoscience and nanotechnology and represents the pre-modern as well as modern timeline era of discoveries and milestones in these fields.

1. Definition of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology

The prefix ‘nano’ is referred to a Greek prefix meaning ‘dwarf’ or something very small and depicts one thousand millionth of a meter (10 −9 m). We should distinguish between nanoscience, and nanotechnology. Nanoscience is the study of structures and molecules on the scales of nanometers ranging between 1 and 100 nm, and the technology that utilizes it in practical applications such as devices etc. is called nanotechnology [ 1 ]. As a comparison, one must realize that a single human hair is 60,000 nm thickness and the DNA double helix has a radius of 1 nm ( Figure 1 ) [ 2 ]. The development of nanoscience can be traced to the time of the Greeks and Democritus in the 5th century B.C., when scientists considered the question of whether matter is continuous, and thus infinitely divisible into smaller pieces, or composed of small, indivisible and indestructible particles, which scientists now call atoms.

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A comparison of sizes of nanomaterial. Reproduced with permission from reference [ 2 ].

Nanotechnology is one of the most promising technologies of the 21st century. It is the ability to convert the nanoscience theory to useful applications by observing, measuring, manipulating, assembling, controlling and manufacturing matter at the nanometer scale. The National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) in the United States define Nanotechnology as “a science, engineering, and technology conducted at the nanoscale (1 to 100 nm), where unique phenomena enable novel applications in a wide range of fields, from chemistry, physics and biology, to medicine, engineering and electronics” [ 3 ]. This definition suggests the presence of two conditions for nanotechnology. The first is an issue of scale: nanotechnology is concerned to use structures by controlling their shape and size at nanometer scale. The second issue has to do with novelty: nanotechnology must deal with small things in a way that takes advantage of some properties because of the nanoscale [ 4 ].

We should distinguish between nanoscience and nanotechnology. Nanoscience is a convergence of physics, materials science and biology, which deal with manipulation of materials at atomic and molecular scales; while nanotechnology is the ability to observe measure, manipulate, assemble, control, and manufacture matter at the nanometer scale. There are some reports available, which provided the history of nanoscience and technology, but no report is available which summarize the nanoscience and technology from the beginning to that era with progressive events. Therefore, it is of the utmost requirements to summarize main events in nanoscience and technology to completely understand their development in this field.

2. The Imaginative Pioneers of Nanotechnology

The American physicist and Nobel Prize laureate Richard Feynman introduce the concept of nanotechnology in 1959. During the annual meeting of the American Physical Society, Feynman presented a lecture entitled “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom” at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). In this lecture, Feynman made the hypothesis “Why can’t we write the entire 24 volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica on the head of a pin?”, and described a vision of using machines to construct smaller machines and down to the molecular level [ 5 ]. This new idea demonstrated that Feynman’s hypotheses have been proven correct, and for these reasons, he is considered the father of modern nanotechnology. After fifteen years, Norio Taniguchi, a Japanese scientist was the first to use and define the term “nanotechnology” in 1974 as: “nanotechnology mainly consists of the processing of separation, consolidation, and deformation of materials by one atom or one molecule” [ 6 ].

After Feynman had discovered this new field of research catching the interest of many scientists, two approaches have been developed describing the different possibilities for the synthesis of nanostructures. These manufacturing approaches fall under two categories: top-down and bottom-up, which differ in degrees of quality, speed and cost.

The top-down approach is essentially the breaking down of bulk material to get nano-sized particles. This can be achieved by using advanced techniques such as precision engineering and lithography which have been developed and optimized by industry during recent decades. Precision engineering supports the majority of the micro-electronics industry during the entire production process, and the high performance can be achieved through the use of a combination of improvements. These include the use of advanced nanostructure based on diamond or cubic boron nitride and sensors for size control, combined with numerical control and advanced servo-drive technologies. Lithography involves the patterning of a surface through exposure to light, ions or electrons, and the deposition of material on to that surface to produce the desired material [ 7 ].

The bottom-up approach refers to the build-up of nanostructures from the bottom: atom-by-atom or molecule-by-molecule by physical and chemical methods which are in a nanoscale range (1 nm to 100 nm) using controlled manipulation of self-assembly of atoms and molecules. Chemical synthesis is a method of producing rough materials which can be used either directly in product in their bulk disordered form, or as the building blocks of more advanced ordered materials. Self-assembly is a bottom-up approach in which atoms or molecules organize themselves into ordered nanostructures by chemical-physical interactions between them. Positional assembly is the only technique in which single atoms, molecules or cluster can be positioned freely one-by-one [ 7 ].

The general concept of top down and bottom up and different methods adopted to synthesized nanoparticles by using these techniques are summarized in Figure 2 . In 1986, K. Eric Drexler published the first book on nanotechnology “Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology”, which led to the theory of “molecular engineering” becoming more popular [ 8 ]. Drexler described the build-up of complex machines from individual atoms, which can independently manipulate molecules and atoms and thereby produces self-assembly nanotructures. Later on, in 1991, Drexler, Peterson and Pergamit published another book entitled “Unbounding the Future: the Nanotechnology Revolution” in which they use the terms “nanobots” or “assemblers” for nano processes in medicine applications and then the famous term “nanomedicine” was used for the first time after that [ 9 ].

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The concept of top down and bottom up technology: different methods for nanoparticle synthesis.

3. History of Nanotechnology

Nanoparticles and structures have been used by humans in fourth century AD, by the Roman, which demonstrated one of the most interesting examples of nanotechnology in the ancient world. The Lycurgus cup, from the British Museum collection, represents one of the most outstanding achievements in ancient glass industry. It is the oldest famous example of dichroic glass. Dichroic glass describes two different types of glass, which change color in certain lighting conditions. This means that the Cup have two different colors: the glass appears green in direct light, and red-purple when light shines through the glass ( Figure 3 ) [ 10 ].

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The Lycurgus cup. The glass appears green in reflected light ( A ) and red-purple in transmitted light ( B ). Reproduced with permission from reference [ 10 ].

In 1990, the scientists analyzed the cup using a transmission electron microscopy (TEM) to explain the phenomenon of dichroism [ 11 ]. The observed dichroism (two colors) is due to the presence of nanoparticles with 50–100 nm in diameter. X-ray analysis showed that these nanoparticles are silver-gold (Ag-Au) alloy, with a ratio of Ag:Au of about 7:3, containing in addition about 10% copper (Cu) dispersed in a glass matrix [ 12 , 13 ]. The Au nanoparticles produce a red color as result of light absorption (~520 nm). The red-purple color is due to the absorption by the bigger particles while the green color is attributed to the light scattering by colloidal dispersions of Ag nanoparticles with a size > 40 nm. The Lycurgus cup is recognized as one of the oldest synthetic nanomaterials [ 1 ]. A similar effect is seen in late medieval church windows, shining a luminous red and yellow colors due to the fusion of Au and Ag nanoparticles into the glass. Figure 4 shows an example of the effect of these nanoparticles with different sizes to the stained glass windows [ 14 ].

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Effect of nanoparticles on the colors of the stained glass windows. Reproduced with permission from reference [ 14 ].

During the 9th–17th centuries, glowing, glittering “luster” ceramic glazes used in the Islamic world, and later in Europe contained Ag or copper (Cu) or other nanoparticles [ 15 ]. The Italians also employed nanoparticles in creating Renaissance pottery during 16th century [ 16 ]. They were influenced by Ottoman techniques: during the 13th–18th centuries, to produce “Damascus” saber blades, cementite nanowires and carbon nanotubes were used to provide strength, resilience, and the ability to hold a keen edge [ 17 ]. These colors and material properties were produced intentionally for hundreds of years. Medieval artists and forgers, however, did not know the cause of these surprising effects.

In 1857, Michael Faraday studied the preparation and properties of colloidal suspensions of “Ruby” gold. Their unique optical and electronic properties make them some of the most interesting nanoparticles. Faraday demonstrated how gold nanoparticles produce different-colored solutions under certain lighting conditions [ 18 ]. The progression in nanotechnology due to the blessings of nanoscience are summarized in the Figure 5 .

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Progresses in Nanotechnology.

4. Modern Era of Nanotechnology

There was a progress in nanotechnology since the early ideas of Feynman until 1981 when the physicists Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer invented a new type of microscope at IBM Zurich Research Laboratory, the Scanning Tunneling Microscope (STM) [ 19 , 20 ]. The STM uses a sharp tip that moves so close to a conductive surface that the electron wave functions of the atoms in the tip overlap with the surface atom wave functions. When a voltage is applied, electrons “tunnel” through the vacuum gap from the atom of the tip into the surface (or vice versa). In 1983, the group published the first STM image of the Si(111)-7 × 7 reconstructed surface, which nowadays can be routinely imaged as shown in Figure 6 [ 21 , 22 ].

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STM image of the Si(111)-7 × 7 reconstructed surface showing atomic scale resolution of the top-most layer of silicon atoms. Reproduced with permission from reference [ 22 ].

A few years later, in 1990, Don Eigler of IBM in Almaden and his colleagues used a STM to manipulate 35 individual xenon atoms on a nickel surface and formed the letters of IBM logo ( Figure 7 ) [ 23 ]. The STM was invented to image surfaces at the atomic scale and has been used as a tool with which atoms and molecules can be manipulated to create structures. The tunneling current can be used to selectively break or induce chemical bonds.

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35 Xenon atoms positioned on a nickel (110) substrate using a STM to form IBM logo. Reproduced with permission from reference [ 23 ].

In 1986, Binnig and Rohrer received the Nobel Prize in Physics “for their design of the STM”. This invention led to the development of the atomic force microscope (AFM) and scanning probe microscopes (SPM), which are the instruments of choice for nanotechnology researchers today [ 24 , 25 ]. At the same time, in 1985, Robert Curl, Harold Kroto, and Richard Smalley discovered that carbon can also exist in the form of very stable spheres, the fullerenes or buckyballs [ 26 ]. The carbon balls with chemical formula C60 or C70 are formed when graphite is evaporated in an inert atmosphere. A new carbon chemistry has been now developed, and it is possible to enclose metal atoms and create new organic compounds. A few years later, in 1991, Iijima et al. observed of hollow graphitic tubes or carbon nanotubes by Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM) which form another member of the fullerene family ( Figure 8 ) [ 27 ]. The strength and flexibility of carbon nanotubes make them potentially useful in many nanotechnological applications. Currently, Carbon nanotubes are used as composite fibers in polymers and beton to improve the mechanical, thermal and electrical properties of the bulk product. They also have potential applications as field emitters, energy storage materials, catalysis, and molecular electronic components.

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Schematic of a C60 buckyball (Fullerene) ( A ) and carbon nanotube ( B ).

In 2004, a new class of carbon nanomaterials called carbon dots (C-dots) with size below 10 nm was discovered accidentally by Xu et al. during the purification of single-walled carbon nanotubes [ 28 ]. C-dots with interesting properties have gradually become a rising star as a new nanocarbon member due to their benign, abundant and inexpensive nature [ 29 ]. Possessing such superior properties as low toxicity and good biocompatibility renders C-dots favorable materials for applications in bioimaging, biosensor and drug delivery [ 30 , 31 , 32 , 33 , 34 , 35 ]. Based on their excellent optical and electronic properties, C-dots can also offer exciting opportunities for catalysis, energy conversion, photovoltaic devices and nanoprobes for sensitive ion detection [ 36 , 37 , 38 , 39 ]. After the discovery of “graphene” in 2004, carbon-based materials became the backbone of almost every field of science and engineering.

In the meantime, nanoscience progressed in other fields of science like in computer science, bio and engineering. Nanoscience and technology progressed in computer science to decrease the size of a normal computer from a room size to highly efficient moveable laptops. Electrical engineers progressed to design the complex electrical circuits down to nanoscale level. Also, many advances are noticed in smart phone technology and other modern electronic devices for daily uses.

At the beginning of 21st century, there was an increased interest in the nanoscience and nanotechnology fields. In the United States, Feynman’s concept of manipulation of matter at the atomic level played an important role in shaping national science priorities. During a speech at Caltech on 21 January 2000, President Bill Clinton advocated for the funding of research in the field of nanotechnology. Three years later, President George W. Bush signed into law the 21st century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act. The legislation made nanotechnology research a national priority and created the National Technology Initiative (NNI).

Recently, a number of studies highlighted the huge potential that nanotechnologies play in biomedicine for the diagnosis and therapy of many human diseases [ 40 ]. In this regard, bio-nanotechnology is considered by many experts as one of the most intriguing field of application of nanoscience. During recent decades, the applications of nanotechnology in many biology related areas such as diagnosis, drug delivery, and molecular imaging are being intensively researched and offered excellent results. Remarkably, a plethora of medical-related products containing nanomaterials are currently on the market in the USA. Examples of “nanopharmaceuticals” include nanomaterials for drug delivery and regenerative medicine, as well as nanoparticles with antibacterial activities or functional nanostructures used for biomarker detection like nanobiochips, nanoelectrodes, or nanobiosensors [ 41 ].

One of the most important applications of nanotechnology to molecular biology has been related to nucleic acids. In 2006, Paul Rothemund developed the “scaffolded DNA origami”, by enhancing the complexity and size of self-assembled DNA nanostructures in a “one-pot” reaction [ 42 ]. The conceptual foundation for DNA nanotechnology was first laid out by Nadrian Seeman in 1982: “It is possible to generate sequences of oligomeric nucleic acids, which will preferentially associate to form migrationally immobile junctions, rather than linear duplexes, as they usually do” [ 43 ]. DNA nanotechnology has already become an interdisciplinary research area, with researchers from physics, chemistry, materials science, computer science, and medicine coming together to find solutions for future challenges in nanotechnology [ 44 , 45 , 46 , 47 ]. Notably, years of extensive studied made possible to use DNA and other biopolymers directly in array technologies for sensing and diagnostic applications.

Remarkable progresses have been made also in the field of nano-oncology by improving the efficacy of traditional chemotherapy drugs for a plethora of aggressive human cancers [ 48 , 49 ]. These advances have been achieved by targeting the tumour site with several functional molecules including nanoparticles, antibodies and cytotoxic agents. In this context, many studies showed that nanomaterials can be employed itself or to deliver therapeutic molecules to modulate essential biological processes, like autophagy, metabolism or oxidative stress, exerting anticancer activity [ 50 ].

Hence, nano-oncology is a very attractive application of nanoscience and allows for the improvement of tumour response rates in addition to a significant reduction of the systemic toxicity associated with current chemotherapy treatments.

Nanotechnology has been used to improve the environment and to produce more efficient and cost-effective energy, such as generating less pollution during the manufacture of materials, producing solar cells that generate electricity at a competitive cost, cleaning up organic chemicals polluting groundwater, and cleaning volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from air.

However, the application of computational approaches to nanomedicine is yet underdeveloped and is an exigent area of research. The need for computational applications at the nano scale has given rise to the field of nanoinformatics.

Powerful machine-learning algorithms and predictive analytics can considerably facilitate the design of more efficient nanocarriers. Such algorithms provide predictive knowledge on future data, have been mainly applied for predicting cellular uptake, activity, and cytotoxicity of nanoparticles.

Data mining, network analysis, quantitative structure-property relationship (QSPR), quantitative structure–activity relationship (QSAR), and ADMET (absorption, distribution, metabolism, excretion, and toxicity) predictors are some of the other prominent property evaluations being carried out in nanoinformatics.

Nanoinformatics has provided a major supplementary platform for nanoparticle design and analysis to overcome such in vitro barriers. Nanoinformatics exclusively deals with the assembling, sharing, envisaging, modeling, and evaluation of significant nanoscale level data and information. Nanoinformatics also facilitates chemotherapy by improving the nano-modeling of the tumor cells and aids detection of the drug-resistant tumors easily. Hyperthermia-based targeted drug delivery and gene therapy approaches are the latest nanoinformatics techniques proven to treat cancer with least side effects [ 51 ].

5. Conclusions

The progress of nanoscience and nanotechnology in different fields of science has expanded in different directions, to observe things from micro to nano, to even smaller scale sizes by different microscopes in physics, from micro size bulk matter to small size carbon dots in chemistry, from room size computers to mobile slim size laptops in computer science, and to observe deeply the behavior of the cell′s nucleus to study single complicated biomolecules at the nano level in biological science. All these progressions in different fields of science have been generally overviewed and summarized in Figure 9 .

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Progress in nanoscience and nanotechnology in different fields of science.

In only a few decades, nanotechnology and nanoscience have become of fundamental importance to industrial applications and medical devices, such as diagnostic biosensors, drug delivery systems, and imaging probes. For example, in the food industry, nanomaterials have been exploited to increase drastically the production, packaging, shelf life, and bioavailability of nutrients. In contrast, zinc oxide nanostructures display antimicrobial activity against food-borne bacteria, and a plethora of different nanomaterials are nowadays used for diagnostic purposes as food sensors to detect food quality and safety [ 52 ].

Nanomaterials are being used to build a new generation of solar cells, hydrogen fuel cells, and novel hydrogen storage systems capable of delivering clean energy to countries still reliant on traditional, non-renewable contaminating fuels.

However, the most significant advances in nanotechnology fall in the broad field of biomedicine and especially in cancer therapeutics because of their great potential to offer innovative solutions to overcome the limitations deriving by traditional chemotherapy and radiotherapy approaches.

Recent advances made in the fields of physic, chemistry and material sciences have provided a number of nanomaterials with unique properties, which are expected to improve the treatment of many tumors otherwise resistant to current therapies. This will be possible by merit of their intrinsic cytotoxic activity and/or because of their capability to act as nanocarriers to deliver therapeutic molecules, such as drugs, proteins, nucleic acids or immune agents. These innovative biomedical applications are currently exploited in a variety of clinical trials and, in the near future, may support major development in the therapy of cancer.

In 2018, the budget for NNI was 1.2 billion dollars ($) to support nanoscience, engineering and technology. Still, scientists are working for new breakthroughs in nanoscience and nanotechnology in order to make human life easier and more comfortable.

In this context, Table 1 presents the historical development of nanoscience and nanotechnology.

Evolution Timeline of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology.


Authors are thankful to Fondazione AIRC per la Ricerca sul Cancro for funding.

Author Contributions

Conceptualization, S.B. and F.R.; writing—Original draft preparation, S.B.; writing—Review and editing, S.B., M.A., T.T., and M.C.; supervision, F.R. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.

This research was funded by AIRC IG 2019 (No.23566).

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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Molecular Nanotechnology Has Been Successful When Properly Funded

In January, 2022, – The first molecular electronics chip was developed. This achieved a 50-year-old goal of integrating single molecules into circuits to achieve the ultimate scaling limits of Moore’s Law. Developed by Roswell Biotechnologies and a multi-disciplinary team of leading academic scientists, the chip uses single molecules as universal sensor elements in a circuit to create a programmable biosensor with real-time, single-molecule sensitivity and unlimited scalability in sensor pixel density.

The Roswell Molecular Electronics(ME) Chip™ boasts a fully miniaturized sensor, ultimately compatible, for the first time, with standard microchips, overcoming the greatest hurdles to molecular electronics’ commercialization. Designed to be broadly deployable and low-cost, the Roswell ME Chip will reach new levels of performance and miniaturization in biosensing.

The sensor architecture enables precise electronic measurement at the single-molecule level for applications that range from basic discovery and translational research to precision diagnostics, whole-genome sequencing and environmental surveillance.

Next level DNA reading – The Scalability to Deliver the $100, 1-Hour Genome and Beyond…

research papers of nanotechnology

Roswell is working towards compact multi-Exabyte DNA data storage.

In 2008, James Tour won the Foresight Institute Feynman prize.

In 2000 (eighth Foresight institute molecular nanotechnology conference), James Tour presented.

Constructing a Computer from Molecular Components

Research efforts directed toward constructing a molecular computer will be described. Routes will be outlined from the synthesis of the basic building blocks such as wires and alligator clips, to the assembly of the entire CPU. Specific achievements include: (1) isolation of single molecules in alkane thiolate self-assembled monolayers and addressing them with an STM probe, (2) single molecule conductance measurements using a mechanically controllable break junction, (3) 30 nm bundles, approximately 1000 molecules, of precisely tailored molecular structures showing negative differential resistance with peak-to-valley responses far exceeding those for solid state devices, (4) dynamic random access memories (DRAMs) constructed from 1000 molecule units that possess 10 minute information hold times (5) demonstration of single-molecule switching events and (6) initial assemblies of molecular CPUs.

research papers of nanotechnology

Professor Tour is the founder and principal of NanoJtech Consultants, LLC, performing technology assessments for the prospective investor. Tour’s intellectual property has been the seed for the formation of several other companies including Weebit (silicon oxide electronic memory), Dotz (graphene quantum), Zeta Energy (batteries), NeuroCords (spinal cord repair), Xerient (treatment of pancreas cancer), LIGC Application Ltd. (laser-induced graphene), Nanorobotics (molecular nanomachines in medicine) Universal Matter Ltd. (US) and Universal Matter Inc. (Canada) (flash graphene synthesis), Roswell Biotechnologies (molecular electronic DNA sequencing) and Rust Patrol (corrosion inhibitors).

Professor Tour has over 785 research publications, over 130 granted patents and over 100 pending patents. He has an h-index = 170 with total citations over 133,000. In 2021, he won the Oesper Award from the American Chemical Society which is awarded to “outstanding chemists for lifetime significant accomplishments in the field of chemistry with long-lasting impact on the chemical sciences.” In 2020, he became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry and in the same year was awarded the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Centenary Prize for innovations in materials chemistry with applications in medicine and nanotechnology. Based on the impact of his published work, in 2019 Tour was ranked in the top 0.004% of the 7 million scientists who have published at least 5 papers in their careers.

James M. Tour, a synthetic organic chemist, received his Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from Syracuse University, his Ph.D. in synthetic organic and organometallic chemistry from Purdue University, and postdoctoral training in synthetic organic chemistry at the University of Wisconsin and Stanford University. After spending 11 years on the faculty of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of South Carolina, he joined the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology at Rice University in 1999 where he is presently the T. T. and W. F. Chao Professor of Chemistry, Professor of Computer Science, and Professor of Materials Science and NanoEngineering. Tour’s scientific research areas include nanoelectronics, graphene electronics, silicon oxide electronics, carbon nanovectors for medical applications, green carbon research for enhanced oil recovery and environmentally friendly oil and gas extraction, graphene photovoltaics, carbon supercapacitors, lithium ion batteries, CO2 capture, water splitting to H2 and O2, water purification, carbon nanotube and graphene synthetic modifications, graphene oxide, carbon composites, hydrogen storage on nanoengineered carbon scaffolds, and synthesis of single-molecule nanomachines which includes molecular motors and nanocars. He has also developed strategies for retarding chemical terrorist attacks. For pre-college education, Tour developed the NanoKids concept for K-12 education in nanoscale science, and also Dance Dance Revolution and Guitar Hero science packages for elementary and middle school education: SciRave that later expanded to a Stemscopes-based SciRave. The SciRave program has risen to be the #1 most widely adopted program in Texas to complement science instruction, and it is currently used by over 450 school districts and 40,000 teachers with over 1 million student downloads.

Tour’s paper on Nanocars was the most highly accessed journal article of all American Chemical Society articles in 2005, and it was listed by LiveScience as the second most influential paper in all of science in 2005. Tour has won several other national awards including the National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator Award in Polymer Chemistry and the Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Award in Polymer Chemistry.

There was a 100 nanometer long nanocar race in 2017.

Dr. Joachim shared the 1997 Foresight Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology for Experimental Work with two researchers then at IBM Research Zurich for work using scanning probe microscopes to manipulate molecules. Eight years later he won the 2005 Foresight Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology for Theory for developing theoretical tools and establishing the principles for design of a wide variety of single molecule functional nanomachines.

Rice University chemist James Tour [winner of the 2008 Foresight Institute Feynman Prize for Experimental work] and his international team have won the first Nanocar Race. With an asterisk.

The Rice and University of Graz team finished first in the inaugural Nanocar Race in Toulouse, France, April 28, completing a 150-nanometer course — a thousandth of the width of a human hair — in about 1½ hours. (The race was declared over after 30 hours.)

research papers of nanotechnology

Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.

Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.

A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts.  He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.

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research papers of nanotechnology

Materials Advances

Nanomaterials: a review of synthesis methods, properties, recent progress, and challenges.

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* Corresponding authors

a Center of Research Excellence in Desalination & Water Treatment, King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, Dhahran 31261, Saudi Arabia E-mail: [email protected] , [email protected]

b Center for Environment and Water, King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, Dhahran 31261, Saudi Arabia

c Interdisciplinary Research Center for Membranes and Water Security, King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, Dhahran 31261, Saudi Arabia

d Department of Chemical & Biological Engineering, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama 35487-0203, USA E-mail: [email protected] , [email protected]

e Department of Mechanical Engineering, King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, Dhahran 31261, Saudi Arabia

Nanomaterials have emerged as an amazing class of materials that consists of a broad spectrum of examples with at least one dimension in the range of 1 to 100 nm. Exceptionally high surface areas can be achieved through the rational design of nanomaterials. Nanomaterials can be produced with outstanding magnetic, electrical, optical, mechanical, and catalytic properties that are substantially different from their bulk counterparts. The nanomaterial properties can be tuned as desired via precisely controlling the size, shape, synthesis conditions, and appropriate functionalization. This review discusses a brief history of nanomaterials and their use throughout history to trigger advances in nanotechnology development. In particular, we describe and define various terms relating to nanomaterials. Various nanomaterial synthesis methods, including top-down and bottom-up approaches, are discussed. The unique features of nanomaterials are highlighted throughout the review. This review describes advances in nanomaterials, specifically fullerenes, carbon nanotubes, graphene, carbon quantum dots, nanodiamonds, carbon nanohorns, nanoporous materials, core–shell nanoparticles, silicene, antimonene, MXenes, 2D MOF nanosheets, boron nitride nanosheets, layered double hydroxides, and metal-based nanomaterials. Finally, we conclude by discussing challenges and future perspectives relating to nanomaterials.

Graphical abstract: Nanomaterials: a review of synthesis methods, properties, recent progress, and challenges

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research papers of nanotechnology

N. Baig, I. Kammakakam and W. Falath, Mater. Adv. , 2021,  2 , 1821 DOI: 10.1039/D0MA00807A

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Nanotechnology Research Paper

View sample nano technology research paper . Browse research paper examples for more inspiration. If you need a thorough research paper written according to all the academic standards, you can always turn to our experienced writers for help. This is how your paper can get an A! Feel free to contact our writing service for professional assistance. We offer high-quality assignments for reasonable rates.

The miniaturization of science and engineering is just one aspect of the many ways that the rapidly expanding field of nanotechnology promises to revolutionize the landscape of science, technology, and society. With potential applications stretching across the wide spectrum of research and development in consumer electronics and cosmetics, drug development and delivery in the pharmaceutical industry, medical technologies and therapeutics, energy production and storage, environmental engineering and remediation, industrial manufacturing, and textile production, nanoscience and nanotechnologies have demonstrated breathtaking potential. Some of its most ardent supporters project the future of this technology even more optimistically. Others disagree, suggesting that hype surrounding speculative nanotechnology is well beyond the plausible potential of the technology and seems more at home in science fiction novels and films. This research paper explores the developing field of nanotechnology and given its vast potential considers whether there are inherent concerns or dangers in the utilization of these technologies. Additional attention is given to ethical considerations and implications of these technologies, as well as to policy questions that are raised with respect to regulating nanotechnology for the public good.

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Few areas of research and development have captured the imagination with the potential for such broad impact and implications as has nanoscience and nanotechnology. Applications for nanotechnology cross such disparate fields of research, development, and production as materials science (with agricultural, industrial/manufacturing, and textile applications), energy production, environmental sciences, information and communication technologies, cosmetics, healthcare (with diagnostics, drug delivery, gene therapy, and potential contributions to regenerative medicine), and the possibility of futuristic applications with nanobots and nanotechnology assemblers. As of late 2014, an inventory by the Woodrow Wilson Center identified over 1,800 consumer products containing nanoscale materials (Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies 2014).

“Nanoscale technology” or “nanotechnology” generally refers to the products of science and engineering that seek to understand and control matter at the nanoscale level. While definitions of the terminology are not universally agreed upon, the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI n.d.) defines the “nanoscale” as the “dimensional range of approximately 1–100 nm” (a nanometer is one-billionth of a meter). Comparatively, a sheet of paper is roughly 100,000 nm thick. The ability to manipulate and control materials at the nanoscale level offers a variety of promising and wide-ranging applications. From enhancements to already existent consumer products to advances in industrial manufacturing to regenerative medicine and the possibility of futuristic applications, nanotechnology has the potential to revolutionize far-reaching aspects of human life. Strong proponents of the future of these technologies offer visions that seem to stretch the limits of credulity and posit applications that may seem more at home in science fiction novels and films. Such proposals have led others to charge that this very promise has led to unreasonable research hype and speculations, and thus critics within the research and ethics communities increasingly are calling for more chastened projections of potential research deliverables, as well as what they claim are more “realistic” potential benefits.

As an area of emerging technology, nanotechnology (at least in its formal use of nanoscience) and the corresponding field of nanotechnology ethics (or nanoethics) are relatively recent developments of the 1990s with much of their growth occurring within the early years of the twenty-first century. The purpose of this research paper is to explore the historical background leading to contemporary research, development, and product release of nanotechnologies; clarify key terminology; examine recent, near future, and speculative applications of these technologies; and conclude with a discussion of various ethical considerations raised by nanotechnologies.

Historical Development

“Nanotechnology” was first coined in 1974 by the Japanese researcher Norio Taniguchi “to mean precision machining with tolerances of a micrometer or less” (Voss 1999). While this marked the first known usage of the term, the formal discipline of nanoscience is indebted to the work of Richard Feynman, a physicist who speculated in a 1959 presentation “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom.” In his talk, Feynman (1960) explored the possibility of printing the entire 24 volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica on the head of a pin, thus requiring the equivalent of an electron microscope to read the nanometer-scale transcription. Feynman speculated on the ability to manipulate material at the atomic and molecular level to create what would later be referred to as nanoscale devices or nanomachines utilizing a “bottom-up approach” (O’Mathúna 2009). This “bottom-up approach” of nanoscale assembly is often contrasted with a “top-down approach” that seeks to apply larger-scale manufacturing techniques and principles at increasingly smaller scales (Navarro and Planell 2012; Mitchell et al. 2007). Feynman’s 1959 presentation advanced possibilities that would characterize both approaches.

Eric Drexler’s 1986 volume Engines of Creation was instrumental in introducing nanotechnology into public awareness and the ensuing policy discourse. In his work, Drexler revisited the two approaches to the miniaturization of research by contrasting “bulk technology”– similar to a “topdown approach” – with that of “molecular technology” – similar to a “bottom-up approach” and interchangeable with the term “nanotechnology” (Drexler 1990). In describing these two technologies, Drexler notes that previous technologies that moved “room-sized computers” to silicon chips relied upon the older model of bulk technology, while molecular technology will allow for the possibility of precision devices made of “nanocircuits and nanomachines” (Drexler 1990). Within the nanoscience and nanotechnology research community, Drexler’s promotion of nanobots and self-replicating nanoassemblers has had a polarizing effect resulting in a division between those who focus on the near-term potential of nanotechnology (based upon strides that have already been made and are perceived to be likely outcomes from current research capabilities) and those who take a more futuristic or speculative approach to nanotechnologies. Such speculative approaches often advance the idea of increasing convergence of emerging technologies to promote such possibilities as radical life extension, human enhancement and augmentation, cryonics, and attempts to guide the future of human evolution (O’Mathúna 2009).

One of the oldest known applications of nanotechnology dates back to the fourth-century Roman Lycurgus Cup made of dichroic glass. Housed in the British Museum, this cup contains metal nanoparticles in the glass which alter its color when held up to a light source (O’Mathúna 2009; Khan 2012). Little is known about how the glassmakers came to utilize these nanoparticles. Later applications throughout history included use of nanoparticles on glass windows (Ireland, mid-fifth century), ceramics (Islamic world and later Europe, ninth to seventeenth centuries), and traditional medicines in South Asia. Furthermore, weapons metallurgy of the thirteenth to eighteenth centuries used carbon nanotubes and cementite nanowires in the making of “Damascus” saber blades (Khan 2012).

A major breakthrough in contemporary nanotechnology research occurred in 1985 with the creation of a new form of carbon known as the buckminsterfullerene or more commonly a “buckyball” (also bucky-ball) due to its resemblance to a soccer ball. The buckyball was followed in 1991 with the related development of carbon nanotubes. Due to their unique structure, carbon nanotubes were viewed as a major development for materials science, as they are approximately “60 times stronger than steel and capable of conducting electricity 1,000 times better than copper” (Khan 2012).

Nanotechnology Themes In Fiction

Given the potential of nanotechnology, it is no surprise that it has also captured the attention of science fiction authors. The value of fiction and film to philosophy, ethics, and medicine has been on the rise in the past decade with increased attention given to the contributions of the medical humanities and its role in education. Examples of nanotechnology in science fiction range from cautionary tales such as Michael Crichton’s 2002 novel Prey of an uncontrolled nanotech swarm to classic works such as Isaac Asimov’s Fantastic Voyage with its miniaturized machines (O’Mathúna 2009). Likewise, William Gibson’s The Peripheral (2014) explores two futures in which the technology of 3-D printing gives way to the proliferation of self-replicating nanoassemblers, demonstrating an interesting progression of possible technological evolution.

Perhaps the most direct connection between science fiction and bioethics is that nanotechnology and similar technologies offer “science fiction authors the opportunity to make predictions about what is to come and to issue warnings” (O’Mathúna 2009). Such “speculative ethics” may project and support either dystopian or utopian conceptions of the future. Nordmann (2007) and others counter that such speculative approaches treat imagined futures as if they already exist and thereby displace actual presenting issues. Balancing ethical reflection of existing nanotechnologies with anticipating futuristic applications of nanotechnologies is a delicate task. As with all rapidly evolving arenas of emerging technologies, merely setting aside the speculative dimension of potential applications seems to ignore the length of deliberation necessary to implement appropriate policy and regulatory regimes so as to avoid both conceptual and policy vacuums. Technology assessment and ethical analysis of emerging technologies such as nanotechnologies are perhaps necessarily speculative endeavors. However, an appropriate caution must be raised to prevent the conflation of hypotheticals with presenting technologies in such ethical discourse.

Funding And International Research And Development

The U.S. government took an early lead in funding research and development of nanoscience and nanotechnology, launching what would eventually become the NNI in the late 1990s during the administration of President Bill Clinton. Recognizing the value of a coordinated federal effort for nanotechnology research and development, in 2003 President George W. Bush signed into law the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act (NNI n.d.). Initial U.S. government funding of $464 million in 2001 quickly grew to nearly $2 billion in 2010, with 2015 budget allocations for the NNI set at more than $1.5 billion (NNI n.d.). In addition to the federal funding provided by the NNI, both state-level and private funding are substantial supplements to U.S. research initiatives in nanotechnology. Cumulative NNI investment from 2001 to 2015 is estimated at approximately $21 billion.

The European Commission has likewise taken “a leading and coordinating role in nanoscience and nanotechnology development in Europe,” as well as individual governmental support from several EU member states that invest directly in research and development such as the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and others (Malsch and Emond 2014). The European Commission in 2007 had allocated approximately EUR 600 million through its Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) for research in the areas of nanomedicine and nanomaterials (Navarro and Planell 2012). Similarly, significant research initiatives in Australia, Japan, and South Korea as well as in numerous emerging economies such as Brazil, Argentina, Russia, India, and China demonstrate the global involvement of research investment in nanoscience and nanotechnology research, infrastructure, and development.

Defining Terms

As noted earlier, “nanotechnology” refers to the products of science and engineering that seek to understand and control matter at the nanoscale level. The interest of studying and manipulating materials at the nanoscale level is that such materials exhibit novel properties that are distinct from larger scales of the same materials.

While the upper limit of 100 nanometers (nm) is commonly used, some have noted the lack of scientific evidence to justify such a demarcation in that some materials exhibit similar properties at larger scales and, thus, have proposed an alternative dimensional range of 1–1,000 nm (O’Mathúna 2009). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in a 2014 industry guidance suggests the consideration of those materials with dimensions outside of the nanoscale but which may demonstrate “novel properties and phenomena similar to those seen in materials with dimensions in the nanoscale range” and thus proposes an upper limit of 1 mm (1,000 nm) for regulation (FDA 2014). Others such as the European Commission have proposed more functional definitions that focus on controlling “the structure and behaviour of matter at the level of atoms and molecules” rather than emphasizing specific size ranges (European Commission 2014; Khan 2012). As O’Mathúna (2009) notes, part of the challenge to precisely defining the boundaries of nanotechnology is that within the nanoscale range, “a unique combination of quantum and macroscale effects converge to give nanoparticles their unique and interesting properties,” particularly as they interact with cells and living tissues to “permeat[e] the impermeable.”

The UK’s Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering have emphasized the distinction between “nanoscience” and “nanotechnology.” The former is “the study of phenomena and manipulation of materials at atomic, molecular and macromolecular scales, where properties differ significantly from those at a larger scale” (The Royal Society and The Royal Academy of Engineering 2004; ten Have 2007). The latter is “the design, characterization, production and application of structures, devices and systems by controlling shape and size at nanometer scale.” Furthermore, given the range of disciplines and applications covered by nanoscience and nanotechnology research, ten Have (2007) and others suggest that “nanotechnologies” is a more accurate term to designate the field. With their potential impact, nanotechnologies have been deemed by many to be not only enabling technologies but also transformative or disruptive technologies, capable of altering a disciplinary landscape or aspect of technology and society (Jotterand 2008).

Nanotechnologies are available in a variety of applications, of which nanoparticles, carbon nanotubes, and nanobiosensors are some of the most common. As noted earlier, one of the oldest and most widely utilized nanotechnologies is nanoparticles. Some of the most commonly used types of nanoparticles are gold nanoparticles, magnetic nanoparticles, and a semiconductor nanocrystal referred to as a quantum dot (Navarro and Planell 2012). In contrast to their bulk material counterparts (generally those materials larger than 1 mm), nanoparticles exhibit novel properties (e.g., color, reactivity, conductivity, melting point, hardness, etc.) that introduce potential uses beyond those of their bulk counterparts. Nanoparticles are being utilized or researched for use in cosmetics, surface coatings for manufacturing and textiles, diagnostics, environmental remediation, energy production, as well as numerous medical applications.

One of the early developments in contemporary nanotechnology was the creation of carbon nanotubes (CNTs). In addition to their strength and conductivity, CNTs demonstrate an impressive flexibility in the structures that may be formed and thus the diversity of types that may be created. CNTs have shown significant potential for advances in materials science, electronics, energy production and storage, environmental remediation, and medical applications, particularly drug delivery and bone tissue engineering. Despite their promise, the unique structure of CNTs raises concerns about potential toxicity issues, particularly the potential for respiratory contamination (Malsch and Emond 2014; O’Mathúna 2009). Broader adoption of CNT technology will depend upon further research to examine under what conditions, if any, CNTs pose a serious risk to the health of humans and/or other living organisms.

Nanobiosensors are a nanoscale detection tool for biological or chemical materials. One category of nanobiosensors includes MEMS (microelectromechanical sensors), which have been proposed as a kind of smart dust for military and environmental applications, or even medical monitoring. MEMS also may refer to the broader category of nanotechnologies referred to as microelectromechanical systems, which include sensor technologies. Nanobiosensors or MEMS could be set to wirelessly transmit information allowing for the possibility of real-time detection or tracking capabilities. Other types of nanoscale sensors include nanofluidic arrays and protein nanochips for analysis of chemical materials or even DNA.

MEMS and the broader category of nanobots (or nanorobotics) and nanites or nanoassemblers represent futuristic forms of nanotechnologies. Speculative uses envision nanobots injected into the bloodstream as medical diagnostics, releasing drugs on demand, and performing nanoscale surgeries to repair the body. Self-replicating nanoassemblers are posited as the future of materials science for construction and product manufacturing, disrupting contemporary models through the nanoscale equivalent of 3-D printing. At present, these potential applications remain the purview of speculative nanotechnologies, despite their popular adoption in many science fiction works.

Current And Potential Applications

Given that nanotechnologies are so wide ranging in their impact and applications, what follows is merely a sampling of the various developments in recent years with relevant comments to areas of active inquiry.


A number of the early advances due to nanoscience and nanotechnology were actually the result of the development of nanoscale instrumentation. New instruments capable of measurements at the subcellular level have led to expansion in the understanding of fundamental biological processes (Navarro and Planell 2012). Developments in instrumentation include the 1981 invention of the scanning tunneling microscope (STM). STM permitted images of individual atoms 5 nm in size and was the first of several scanning probe microscopes significantly to improve the power of instrumentation to study materials at the nanoscale level, leading to later developments such as the atomic force microscope (O’Mathúna 2009; ten Have 2007).

Medical And Pharmaceutical

Nanodelivery systems that utilize encapsulation or coatings with additives allow for increased absorption of pharmaceutical drugs or nutrients such as vitamins, which permits lower dosages and potentially fewer side effects. Due to their ability to pass through cell membranes, carbon nanotubes in particular have demonstrated promise as drug delivery mechanisms (Navarro and Planell 2012; Malsch and Emond 2014). Carbon nanotubes also are generating research interest as potential scaffold material for tissue engineering (Malsch and Emond 2014).

One of the novel properties of nanoparticles, with various medical applications, involves electromagnetic spectrum reactions that result in the vibration or heating of nanomaterials. One such application would be a type of precision tumor surgery involving gold nanoparticles injected directly into a tumor or delivered as part of a drug dosage to enter cancer cells. Several studies have demonstrated the potential for such delivery mechanisms, and when coupled with low-energy laser pulses, the gold nanoparticles caused the cancer cells to explode while leaving surrounding cells unharmed (Evans 2008).

Beyond individual therapeutic interventions, much optimism surrounds the potential of nanotechnology to advance the field of regenerative medicine. In the goal to repair, replace, or regenerate damaged tissues, William Haseltine and others argue that nanotechnology will play a pivotal role (Navarro and Planell 2012). The inclusion of nanotechnology is often seen as the final phase of regenerative medicine, permitting nanoscale examination and analysis of biological structures as well as bottom-up construction of artificial organs and tissues. Research in this area is often classified as “nanobiotechnology” and defined as a field of inquiry that “applies the nanoscale principles and techniques to understand and transform biosystems (living or non-living) and which uses biological principles and materials to create new devices and systems integrated from the nanoscale” (Navarro and Planell 2012). In this respect, nanobiotechnology shares similarities in the application of engineering methodologies employed in genetic engineering (or, more recently, gene therapy) and synthetic biology.

Agricultural And Environmental

Agricultural and environmental applications hold the promise of promoting global equity both in food production, sanitation, and availability of clean water. Additives and engineered nanomaterial (ENM) coatings have the potential to serve as delivery mechanisms for fertilizers, pesticides, and veterinary medicine. Furthermore, such coatings could be applied on packing materials (e.g., silver nanoparticles for antimicrobial protection) to increase longevity of food storage and reduce spoilage (Malsch and Emond 2014). Other potential applications include nanobiosensors – sometimes referred to as “labon-a-chip” technology – to detect food spoilage for improved process monitoring or the presence of environmental contaminants. The combination of nanobiosensors with other technologies such as RFID (radio-frequency identification technology) to tag materials or other data communication technologies would allow for such technologies to work in nanosensor networks. Such interaction between technologies would permit the nanobiosensors to report the quality of food products throughout the entire distribution process including at the checkout counter or even a refrigerator (Malsch and Emond 2014).

Another prospective application is environmental remediation to remove pollutants. One such example would be the utilization of various nanotechnologies to assist in water purification (Evans 2008) or the removal of air pollutants such as carbon dioxide (Malsch and Emond 2014). Particularly promising for water purification are nanofiltration membranes, nanomagnets, and magnetite nanoparticles (Evans 2008; see also Street et al. 2014; Malsch and Emond 2014). Other environmental applications could include nanobiosensors as air or water monitoring systems to identify contaminants.

Ethical Dimensions

Like nanotechnology, nanoethics (or nanotechnology ethics) is a relatively recent development within the realm of applied ethics. Similar to other bioethical subspecialties (e.g., neuroethics, genetic ethics), scholars debate if nanoethics represents the development of a distinct subfield of bioethical inquiry with unique considerations. Some have argued that it is merely a topical specialization that overlaps in its ethical considerations with several other emerging technologies and developments in biotechnology. Robert McGinn, for instance, has responded with skepticism that current evidence does not suggest that nanotechnology raises qualitatively new ethical issues and thus is best regarded as a “subfield of bioethics” (Khan 2012). Similarly, ten Have (2007) and others have noted that only further developments in nanotechnologies will clarify whether nanoethics emerges as a unique “subdiscipline.”

Hype And Scientific Promise

Particularly within Western countries, the current academic research environment has resulted in criticisms of ethics and research practices. One of these criticisms includes the increasing challenges presented by hype in individual research applications or budgetary proposals for entire fields of inquiry due to the increasingly competitive environment to procure grants and other funding. This activity may take multiple forms, such as exaggerating “a project’s feasibility, likely results or significance” with regard to benefits (McGinn 2010). Such hyping of research may also lead to media distortion in coverage of new technologies. While media distortion is not solely the result of hype within the research community, continued “researcher participation in or endorsement of media coverage of scientific or engineering developments that turns [sic] out to be distorted can dilute public trust and foster public misunderstanding of science and engineering” (McGinn 2010; see also Jotterand 2008; Cameron and Mitchell 2007). Such activities become counterproductive to active public engagement of such complex emerging technologies by impeding ethical considerations in the public deliberation process.

Risk, Unintended Consequences, And The Precautionary Principle

While the potential for nanotechnologies is vast, they pose threats similar to that of other realms of biotechnology and emerging technologies (e.g., gene therapy, genetically modified organisms, synthetic biology, and artificial life). With each of these fields, there is a threat potential for catastrophic consequences such as the mass destruction of nature and/or human life (Mitchell et al. 2007). Given the scale in which nanotechnology functions, disasters involving environmental contamination with an impact upon the water and food supply could be particularly damaging and may prove difficult to resolve. While we should not equate science fiction with plausible outcomes, such scenarios (as, for instance, Neal Stephenson’s novel Diamond Age) regularly project futures in which environmental nanotechnology pollution has become the norm. Risk assessment for effects on environment, health, and safety (EHS) must be carefully considered and guarded against given the challenges for both detecting and removing nanotechnology materials (Khan 2012).

Potential futuristic applications of nanobots and nanoassemblers have given rise to concerns among even the most ardent supporters of nanotechnologies. The potential of an accident with self-replicating nanotechnologies could lead to something that “could easily be too tough, small, and rapidly spreading to stop” (Drexler 1990). Often referred to as the gray goo problem (or grey goo scenario), widespread environmental disasters resulting from an accident with nanotechnology have generally been “downplayed as an unlikely concern” (Mitchell et al. 2007). The potential for environmental contamination remains, however, and subsequent regulations and policies should be examined that promote due diligence on the part of individuals and corporations before releasing such materials publicly.

Such considerations may entail the need for strategies on containment, detection, and inactivation of nanotechnologies (Mitchell et al. 2007). At the very least, efforts must be made to facilitate open dialogue between governmental bodies, the general public, as well as those individuals and corporations pursuing release of nanotechnology. Such parties need to be actively engaged in discussions of “risk analysis, risk management, and acceptable options for risk transfer” (Cameron and Mitchell 2007). Nanotechnology presents particular challenges for constructing accurate threat matrices due to uncertainty regarding potential toxicity and pollution and for the near future will continue to present particular challenges for risk management and insurers. Clear priority must be given in nanoscience to study these aspects of potential risks, alongside traditional emphasis on discovery. Most models of risk analysis and risk management are based on “evolutionary developments” within a given field. In emerging areas such as nanotechnology that mark “revolutionary” or transformative changes in which “potential for damage cannot be assessed,” one must carefully distinguish between those “potential risks related to events attributable to a cause” (i.e., real risks) as opposed to “those whose causality merely cannot be excluded” – so-called phantom risks (Cameron and Mitchell 2007; cf. Jotterand 2008).

Deb Newberry suggests several factors that must be assessed to determine potential harm “to humans, flora, and fauna” (Khan 2012). Those factors include (1) Element Type: the primary compositional elements and their impact or toxicity on living organisms, (2) Object Size: the mass and/or volume of the material that may be present, (3) Total Number of Objects: total amount of the material present, (4) Object Shape: may determine the potential harm to certain organs even if the element type is compatible, (5) Time in System: length of interaction within a living system, (6) Life Cycle and Length of Exposure: life cycle of the material, (7) Method of Entry: how the material enters the life system (e.g., air, fluid, injected, absorbed), and (8) Purity: residual chemicals or artifacts that remain on or in the material that result from the manufacturing process (Khan 2012). Each of these factors may assist in determining the potential harm or benefit that may result from the presence of nanomaterial within a life system provided that the impact of such factors is established in the relevant research.

The importance of thorough knowledge of the effects of nanomaterials on living systems and the relative infancy of this field demonstrates the need for caution. Furthermore, given the novel properties that exist at the nanoscale level, previous knowledge of bulk properties or the properties of microor macroscale materials may offer little guidance with respect to potential toxicity or harm (Malsch and Emond 2014). One example would be gold, which at the macro level (e.g., in jewelry) offers very low toxicity, good stability, low reactivity, and well-established properties. In contrast, the properties of gold nanoparticles are still being established, with variable melting temperature and higher reactivity, and thus may pose risks for human health (Khan 2012; Malsch and Emond 2014; O’Mathúna 2009). Given the size of nanoparticles, a potential health concern is the possibility that if they enter the human bloodstream, their size would enable them to cross the blood–brain barrier. This is not just an idle concern as buckyballs have been shown to cause damage in the brains of some aquatic animals (O’Mathúna 2009).

Unintended consequences are often examined with respect to short-term effects, but long-term consequences also may result that are not properly anticipated or thoroughly considered. One such example of an unintended consequence is that nanoparticles may exit the body of animals or humans as waste and be introduced into the environment indirectly. Environmental contamination could result both from direct release of nanoparticles having an unintended consequence or through indirect means such as being introduced as a waste by-product. Indirect means of contamination have important parallels with certain pharmaceutical drugs in which trace amounts have made their way into water supplies. Environmental public health is an emerging field that is leading the way in studying the effects of these developments and may play an increasingly important role with the release of rising numbers of products involving nanomaterials. Of course, not all consequences are necessarily harmful, and an unintended consequence of a new material may be beneficial.

In the midst of uncertain risk, the precautionary principle is typically invoked. In its common understanding, this principle “demands the proactive introduction of protective measures in the face of possible risks, which science at present (in the absence of knowledge) can neither confirm nor deny” (Cameron and Mitchell 2007). Care must be taken in the invocation of the precautionary principle so as to avoid stifling technological innovation. However, in the case of revolutionary technologies, the precautionary principle offers a conceptual framework to advance cautiously in their research, development, and commercialization until real risks can be distinguished from phantom risks and such real risks are analyzed and appropriately managed.

Role Of Technology Assessment

Beyond the more narrow areas of risk assessment and analyses to assess effectiveness and economic impact, emerging technologies such as nanotechnologies should also account for the broader context of technology assessment. Accordingly, ten Have (2007) has noted that technology assessment should include a “broader conception” that takes into consideration “the social and ethical consequences of technologies.” This broader conception may include an examination of “the value judgments at play in recommendations and determine if and how those recommendations were not simply scientific but also normative” (ten Have 2007). Such considerations go beyond the technology itself in its technical dimensions to examine values that are underlying or inherent within the technologies or to assess whether the technologies are “justified in the light of moral values” (ten Have 2007).

In the case of nanotechnologies, some bioethicists have raised concerns similar to those of genetic engineering and synthetic biology, in that the attempt to control or manipulate nature at the atomic or molecular level instrumentalizes nature, emptying nature of any intrinsic value or ontological reality. Through this instrumentalization, nature becomes mere artifice. Those aspects of nanotechnology that exhibit a drive for mastery and control of nature and/or human nature, and particularly those that seek convergence with other emerging technologies as part of a transhumanist or posthumanist paradigm, may be open to such critiques. Nanotechnologies themselves need not be guilty of such critiques, particularly those that emerge from a top-down approach. Yet, given the engineering model that is applied to areas such as synthetic biology, nanotechnologies that emerge from a bottom-up approach may be vulnerable to such concerns.

Donald Evans (2008) suggests the relevance of two articles from UNESCO’s Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights for assessing nanotechnologies, particularly their impact on future generations and protection of the environment in human interactions. Article 16 of the Declaration states, “The impact of life sciences on future generations, including on their genetic constitution, should be given due regard” (UNESCO 2006). Article 17 goes on to note, “Due regard is to be given to the interconnection between human beings and other forms of life, to the importance of appropriate access and utilization of biological and genetic resources, to respect for traditional knowledge and to the role of human beings in the protection of the environment, the biosphere and biodiversity” (UNESCO 2006). Both articles point to the importance of broader considerations in the assessment of emerging technologies such as nanotechnologies.

Informed Consent And Privacy

While the issues of informed consent are not unique to nanotechnology, they do raise important considerations for how such technologies will be introduced for human use. Given the potential for environmental contamination and other public health risks, such consent discussions often include the importance of engaging the general public at least through education but also through public commenting and deliberation. Informed consent presents particular challenges when so little is understood on toxicity, particularly for early experimental use in humans or the widespread commercial use of nanoparticles, the long-term effects of which are not well understood. One need only look to the introduction of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide nanoparticles in sunscreen as an example of when nanotechnologies are introduced into a consumer product without adequate public education or without fully exploring potential risks.

Additional considerations for diagnostic nanotechnologies such as biosensors involve the issue of privacy and control of information that may result. Again, while not unique to nanotechnologies, the potential for the ubiquity of such sensors (e.g., smart dust or medical monitoring) raises important considerations regarding data privacy, data protection, and other issues such as a potential “right to know” or “right to not know” (Jotterand 2008). When combined with DNA detection and analysis, these diagnostics introduce all of the privacy considerations relevant to genetic testing and screening.

Nanotechnologies, Converging Technologies, Regenerative Medicine, And Human Enhancement

Nanotechnologies and convergence frequently appear together in discussions of emerging technologies. In 2002, the National Science Foundation and U.S. Department of Commerce commissioned the report Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance that introduced the acronym NBIC (nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, and cognitive science). The report argued that these previously disparate technologies were increasingly converging and would coalesce to improve health, overcome disability, and even permit human enhancement and posthuman technologies. Other convergence proposals include GRIN (genetic, robotic, information, and nano processes) and some variation of the preceding fields in conjunction with neuroscience and/or artificial intelligence research.

The convergence of such emerging technologies may open exponential leaps forward in regenerative medicine but more modestly will exacerbate already existing medical challenges regarding the distinction between therapies and enhancements. One particular issue is the challenge to clearly distinguish when nanotechnology is therapeutic and when it would be an enhancement. The traditional role of medicine has been to use biomedical technologies and interventions to repair or restore, rather than to enhance or make one “better than well.” The goals of regenerative medicine open the possibility for remarkable medical interventions, but such interventions will likely have inherent capacity for dual use, permitting both therapeutic and enhancement use. Speculative proposals for nanotechnology use extend these medical interventions to include radical life extension research and cryonics. Beyond the speculative proposals for nanotechnology, O’Mathúna (2009; ten Have 2007) and others have raised the concern that nanomedicine will contribute to the increasing challenges already presented by trends toward medicalization.

The role of nanotechnologies along with other converging technologies raises important considerations into the ontological status of living organisms and living systems, including human beings. Possibilities of convergence between nanotechnologies and neuroscience or nanotechnologies and genetics raise important considerations of human identity, the limits of human nature, and ultimately what constitutes the status of being human or, in other words, human nature itself (Jotterand 2008). Considerations such as discussion of the common good, human flourishing, and human futures should be brought to bear in an analysis of converging technologies and human enhancement. While perhaps speculative in nature, the possibility of such futuristic technological outcomes should be included as part of a broader analysis of technology assessment when applied to nanotechnologies. These speculative analyses may be distinct from analyses of presenting technologies but should not be ignored in a more complete analysis of nanotechnologies as such.

Nanotechnologies And The Global Context

 Finally, within the global context, questions must be raised with respect to just development and use of nanotechnologies, particularly within existing global inequities. Considerations should be given to how such advances in nanotechnologies will help resolve or exacerbate long-standing inequities. The prospect of nanotechnologies to revolutionize the availability of clean water and to expand the shelf life and availability of food and the decreasing expense of improved manufacturing may yield significant gains for developing economies with reciprocal potential to improve the median standard of living in such contexts. Yet, these technologies also appear more likely to benefit economically developed countries with respect to intellectual property development and rights from increased patents and further expand such disparities. Additional benefits from nanotechnologies, however, might be seen through significant cost reductions in the creation and availability of devices and delivery mechanisms for medical therapeutics and advances in industrial manufacturing. The rapid adoption of mobile communication technologies drastically improving access to global data and communication networks serves as an example of closing a disparity, which global development of nanotechnologies may well follow. Global justice considerations also have been a key component of nanoethics with a common proposal that research funding should privilege those areas of nanotechnology research and development that will have the most significant impact for developing countries. Unfortunately, realization of such funding priorities has been modest at best.

Relevant regulatory regimes are also implicated. Setting appropriate regulatory regimes and policy guidelines within individual countries presents particular challenges given the typically slow regulatory and legislative processes and the rapid pace of technology development. Furthermore, the international context for developing such guidelines or regulatory protocols presents even more vexing challenges. Self-regulation presents substantive challenges with respect to the nature of the public risks that may be involved. While guidelines for adequate models of risk management and responsibility of risk have slowly emerged, they are not universally agreed upon. Important parallels for such models may be found with the research, development, and commercialization of genetically modified organisms (particularly genetically modified produce). Effort for global governance of nanotechnologies has met with minimal results, though international committees and organizations such as UNESCO, the International Bioethics Committee, and the World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology continue to play important roles in monitoring developments in nanotechnology research for potential benefits and harms, as well as playing significant roles in facilitating public education and discourse (ten Have 2007).

Nanotechnologies have demonstrated the potential to transform the landscape of industrial manufacturing, energy production, environmental sciences, information and communication technologies, and medical research. As one of several emerging technologies, nanotechnologies must be carefully examined for their potential benefits, while closely monitoring the temptations of research hype. Careful consideration must also be given to immediate concerns for potential risks as well as examinations of the broader impact of such technologies for considerations of human nature and human futures both in their individual and global dimensions. Proper technology assessment of these technologies must explore not only important considerations of risk assessment for safety and efficiency with respect to individual applications but should raise broader considerations so as to anticipate and address conceptual vacuums that may exist within a rapidly evolving field of research and development.

Bibliography :

  • Cameron, N., & Mitchell, E. (Eds.). (2007). Nanoscale: Issues and perspectives for the nano century. Hoboken: Wiley-Interscience.
  • Drexler, K. E. (1990). Engines of creation: The coming era of nanotechnology. New York: Anchor Books.
  • European Commission. (2014). Frequently asked questions. https://ec.europa.eu/growth/tools-databases/tris/en/faq/ .
  • Evans, D. (2008). Values in medicine: What are we really doing to patients? New York: Routledge-Cavendish.
  • Feynman, R. (1960). There’s plenty of room at the bottom. Engineering and Science, 23, 22–36.
  • Jotterand, F. (Ed.). (2008). Emerging conceptual, ethical and policy issues in bionanotechnology. London: Springer.
  • Khan, A. (Ed.). (2012). Nanotechnology: Ethical and social implications. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
  • Malsch, I., & Emond, C. (Eds.). (2014). Nanotechnology and human health. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
  • McGinn, R. (2010). Ethical responsibilities of nanotechnology researchers: A short guide. Nanoethics, 4(1), 1–12.
  • Mitchell, C. B., Pellegrino, E., Elshtain, J. B., Kilner, J., & Cameron, N., & Mitchell, E. (Eds.). (2007). Nanoscale: Issues and perspectives for the nano century. Hoboken: Wiley-Interscience.
  • Jotterand, F. (Ed.). (2008). Emerging conceptual, ethical and policy issues in bio nanotechnology. London: Springer.
  • O’Mathúna, D. (2009). Nanoethics: Big ethical issues with small technology. New York: Continuum.
  • Rae, S. (2007). Biotechnology and the human good. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.
  • National Nanotechnology Initiative. (n.d.). https://www.nano.gov/
  • Navarro, M., & Planell, J. (2012). Is nanotechnology the key to unravel and engineer biological processes? In M. Navarro & J. Planell (Eds.), Nanotechnology in regenerative medicine: Methods and protocols (pp. 1–16). New York: Humana Press.
  • Nordmann, A. (2007). If and then: A critique of speculative nanoethics. Nanoethics, 1(1), 31–46.
  • Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies. (2014). Consumer products inventory. https://nanotechproject.org/
  • Street, A., Sustich, R., Jeremiah, D., & Savage, N. (2014). Nanotechnology applications for clean water: Solutions for improving water quality. Waltham: William Andrew.
  • ten Have, H. A. M. J. (Ed.). (2007). Nanotechnologies, ethics and politics. Paris: UNESCO Publishing.
  • The Royal Society & The Royal Academy of Engineering. (2004). Nanoscience and nanotechnologies: Opportunities and uncertainties. London: The Royal Society and The Royal Academy of Engineering. https://royalsociety.org/~/media/royal_society_content/policy/publications/2004/9693.pdf
  • S. Food and Drug Administration. (2014). Considering whether an FDA-regulated product involves the application of nanotechnology: Guidance for industry. https://www.fda.gov/regulatory-information/search-fda-guidance-documents/considering-whether-fda-regulated-product-involves-application-nanotechnology
  • United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organizations. (2006). Universal declaration on bioethics and human rights. Paris: UNESCO Publishing. https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000146180
  • Voss, D. (1999). Moses of the nanoworld. MIT Technology Review. https://www.technologyreview.com/1999/03/01/236715/moses-of-the-nanoworld/


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  • IPR Intranet


Tackling a ‘once in a century education crisis’.

How tutoring can turn the tide on pandemic learning losses

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Change requires change. If we want to dramatically change how fast students learn, schools need to dramatically change schooling.”

Jonathan Guryan and Jens Ludwig Co-Directors of the University of Chicago Education Lab


The federal funds allotted to school districts to combat pandemic-induced learning loss will end in less than a year, but the U.S. is stalled on progress to reverse the once-a-century education crisis.

Remote learning and chronic absenteeism between 2019 and 2022 led students to lose an average of three quarters of a year of schooling, and disadvantaged children, who experienced existing disparities the pandemic only exacerbated, fell even further behind.

In a new paper and an op-ed in the Hill, IPR economist Jonathan Guryan and University of Chicago economist Jens Ludwig seek to understand why such little progress has been made on overcoming the substantial learning losses for most of America’s K–12 students—and they propose solutions to move forward.

Compared to before the pandemic, students in most grades showed slower growth in math and reading, and most states reported troubling setbacks in math scores last year for almost all demographic groups. Because education is cumulative, Guryan and Ludwig, co-directors of the University of Chicago Education Lab , state that the losses could have permanent effects if not soon reversed. And if they are not, they may set a whole generation of students off track for the rest of their lives.

As educators grappled with the sudden switch to remote learning in March 2020, Congress sent $189.5 billion to schools through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund through March 2021. While some of the funding was used to replace lost tax revenue, schools also had to set aside at least 20% for evidence-based interventions to address learning loss, such as tutoring.

“High-dosage” tutoring, an intervention both authors have studied previously, is proven to double, or even triple, the amount a student learns in a year. The individualized, intensive, and in-school tutoring intervention, which costs $3,500 to $4,300 per student per year, was developed by Saga Education, a nonprofit organization. In the program, a tutor works with two students at a time for a full class period every school day.

Many school districts have struggled to implement high-dosage tutoring in ways that are most effective. Some schools have provided tutoring after school or even virtually with students at home, but Guryan and Ludwig find this to be ineffective. Tutoring is the most effective when it’s integrated into the daily curriculum, the researchers find, but it’s difficult for schools to carve out the time during the day to devote to it, and they often lack the funding. The researchers find that high-dosage tutoring, or what they refer to as the closest thing we have to a “COVID learning loss” vaccine, is the most effective, but requires radical changes to the traditional school-day structure.

“Change requires change. If we want to dramatically change how fast students learn, schools need to dramatically change schooling,” Guryan and Ludwig wrote in the op-ed. “Unfortunately, the federal government gave school districts too little time, and too little money, to address the scale of the learning loss problem.”

To get students to participate, the researchers say tutoring must be done during the school day, and effective tutoring requires a structured curriculum to help students learn content they don’t know that’s below their current grade level. Schools also typically assume that successfully teaching children requires extensive prior experience and training, but Saga’s use of paraprofessionals instead of teachers is also effective and costs less, the researchers explain. They acknowledge that the changes needed to dramatically accelerate student learning are hard but must be done to avoid the alternative.

While the schools need to be willing to implement change, they also need the funds to make it possible. The authors call on Congress to extend funding and avoid “squandering the potential of an entire generation of 50 million students,” as well as possibly increasing economic inequality due to worse learning losses for students of color and those from lower-income households. Policymakers also should provide additional resources beyond the initial funding, and push schools to take those difficult steps.

“The failure to give schools more time and money would be the equivalent of calling it quits on overcoming pandemic learning loss,” Guryan and Ludwig wrote. “That would be like quitting a race just when you get to the starting line.”

Read the paper from the Aspen Strategy Consulting Group.

Jonathan Guryan is the Lawyer Taylor Professor of Education and Social Policy and an IPR fellow. Jens Ludwig is the Edwin A. and Betty L. Bergman Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago. They are co-directors of the Education Lab .

Photo credit: iStock

Published: November 1, 2023.

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research papers of nanotechnology

Are You Ready? A Saliva Test Might Tell

Green to lead $17.7 million darpa project analyzing biomarkers to assess readiness for physically and mentally challenging tasks.

By Patrick L. Kennedy

You’re due to run a grueling road race in a few hours. Do you have the stuff to make it across the finish line or will you crash before the end? Or maybe you’ve got a ballet recital or a poker tournament or a big speech—some demanding physical or cognitive challenge is looming, and you need to know that your brain and body are up to it. What if, instead of relying on a vague gut feeling, you could turn to cold, hard data?

research papers of nanotechnology

That’s the goal of a multi-institutional, cross-disciplinary project led by Associate Professor   Alexander A. Green  ( BME ). With up to $17.7 million in federal funds over four years, Green and his colleagues plan to develop a fast, portable saliva test that will analyze an assortment of biomarkers associated with performance on challenging tasks. It could be used to test readiness and the likelihood of success—with results in just 30 minutes.

The project is funded by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which aims to develop a test that will one day save lives and dollars by predicting soldiers’ performance on missions. For example, if a pilot isn’t in the optimal zone, that’s good information to have, allowing the mission team to take extra precautions. The project’s formal name is Smart Paper-Integrated Technologies for Interrogating Readiness (SPITFIRE).

Like the internet, microwave ovens, and aviator sunglasses, Green’s test ultimately might gain use far beyond the military.

Read the full story at BU’s The Brink .

Photo by  Steven Lelham  on  Unsplash

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  • Novel Cancer Diagnostic Earns Hao a PhRMA Grant
  • Sharon Garners $4.9 Million to Test Green Home Retrofits
  • Q&A: How BU Plans to Test Students, Faculty, and Staff for COVID-19

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IEEE Best Land Transportation Paper (2023)

Deep learning in traffic image

Paper:   A Deep Reinforcement Learning Network for Traffic Light Cycle Control

Award:   IEEE Best Land Transportation Paper Award for the year 2023

Authored by :

Xiaoyuan Liang

Abstract: Existing inefficient traffic light cycle control causes numerous problems, such as long delays and waste of energy. To improve efficiency, taking real-time traffic information as an input and dynamically adjusting the traffic light duration accordingly is a must. Existing works either split the traffic signal into equal duration or only leverage limited traffic information. In this paper, we study how to decide the traffic signal duration based on the collected data from different sensors. We propose a deep reinforcement learning model to control the traffic light cycle. In the model, we quantify the complex traffic scenario as stated by collecting traffic data and dividing the whole intersection into small grids. The duration changes of a traffic light are the actions, which are modeled as a high-dimension Markov decision process. The reward is the cumulative waiting time difference between two cycles. To solve the model, a convolutional neural network is employed to map states to rewards. The proposed model incorporates multiple optimization elements to improve the performance, such as dueling network, target network, double Q-learning network, and prioritized experience replay. We evaluate our model via simulation on a Simulation of Urban MObility simulator. Simulation results show the efficiency of our model in controlling traffic lights.

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  • Published: 26 October 2023

A DNA turbine powered by a transmembrane potential across a nanopore

  • Xin Shi   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-7382-5519 1   nAff7 ,
  • Anna-Katharina Pumm   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-1983-194X 2 , 3 ,
  • Christopher Maffeo   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0001-9927-1502 4 ,
  • Fabian Kohler   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-9437-5967 2 ,
  • Elija Feigl 2 ,
  • Wenxuan Zhao 1 ,
  • Daniel Verschueren 1   nAff8 ,
  • Ramin Golestanian   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-3149-4002 5 , 6 ,
  • Aleksei Aksimentiev   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-6042-8442 4 ,
  • Hendrik Dietz   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-1270-3662 2 &
  • Cees Dekker   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0001-6273-071X 1  

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  • DNA nanomachines

Rotary motors play key roles in energy transduction, from macroscale windmills to nanoscale turbines such as ATP synthase in cells. Despite our abilities to construct engines at many scales, developing functional synthetic turbines at the nanoscale has remained challenging. Here, we experimentally demonstrate rationally designed nanoscale DNA origami turbines with three chiral blades. These DNA nanoturbines are 24–27 nm in height and diameter and can utilize transmembrane electrochemical potentials across nanopores to drive DNA bundles into sustained unidirectional rotations of up to 10 revolutions s −1 . The rotation direction is set by the designed chirality of the turbine. All-atom molecular dynamics simulations show how hydrodynamic flows drive this turbine. At high salt concentrations, the rotation direction of turbines with the same chirality is reversed, which is explained by a change in the anisotropy of the electrophoretic mobility. Our artificial turbines operate autonomously in physiological conditions, converting energy from naturally abundant electrochemical potentials into mechanical work. The results open new possibilities for engineering active robotics at the nanoscale.

At the heart of any active mechanical system is an engine, which converts one type of energy, typically chemical or electrical, into mechanical work. In biological systems, such work is done by motor proteins such as kinesin 1 , the bacterial flagella motor 2 and F o F 1 -ATP synthase 3 , 4 . In the latter, electrochemical potential energy from a concentration gradient of ions is converted into mechanical rotary motion of the F o motor, which drives the F 1 rotary complex to catalyse the synthesis of ATP, the molecule that provides free energy for many cellular processes. Despite the extensive knowledge and success of building rotary engines of sizes spanning many orders of magnitude on the macroscale, designing, building and demonstrating functioning artificial nanoscale counterparts of these sophisticated biological motors has proven challenging.

The critical step of building such nanoscale rotary engines is to demonstrate their ability to transduce local free energy continuously and autonomously into designed mechanical motion and useful work. Previous work led to multiple designs of rotary assemblies 5 , 6 , 7 , 8 , and established a certain level of directed motion as an external operator manually cycled environmental conditions 9 such as light and temperature 10 , 11 , chemical compounds 12 , 13 or alternate macroscale electric fields 14 . Molecular dynamics (MD) simulations have shown the conceptual feasibility of using a DNA helix to convert electric field into torque 15 ; however, experimental demonstration of a rotary mechanism programmed for sustained conversion of a transmembrane electric potential into the mechanical rotation had not been achieved.

Here, we demonstrate a bottom-up designed DNA nanoturbine that is powered by a nanoscale hydrodynamic flow inside a nanopore. It contains a central axle decorated with three blades arranged in a chiral configuration, either left or right handed. The turbine has a height of 24 or 27 nm, comparable to the 20-nm-tall ATP synthase. The turbine’s stator is provided by a solid-state nanopore in a 20-nm-thickness silicon nitride membrane. Using single-molecule fluorescence, we monitor the rotation of the nanoturbine driven by either a direct current (DC) voltage or a transmembrane ion gradient, which mimics the working environment of rotary motors in biological cells. As we demonstrate below, the nanoturbine can drive a long DNA bundle as a hydrodynamic load into sustained rotary motion of up to 10 revolutions s −1 , equivalent to delivering tens of piconewton nanometres of torque, which compares well with the ~50 pN nm torque that can be generated by natural ATP synthase 16 , 17 .

Design of DNA nanoturbines

Our DNA nanoturbine is a multilayer DNA origami structure containing an intentionally designed chiral twist (Fig. 1a,b ). The structure consists of 30 double-stranded DNA helices, each 72 base pairs (bp) in length on average, where the six parallel central helices form an axle, and the three eight-helix blades are obliquely attached to the axle and symmetrically spaced at 120° angles across the circumference. The chiral twist in the blades of the turbine is induced by adjusting the number of base pairs between each staple crossover away from the one-per-7 bp value required for an achiral structure 18 , yielding a strongly right-handed twisted structure for an 8 bp crossover density and a left-handed twisted turbine for 6.5 bp spacings on average, while maintaining a good folding yield of the structures (Supplementary Figs. 1–5 ). The objects were self-assembled as described previously 19 (for details, see Methods ). We used single-particle cryogenic electron microscopy (cryo-EM) to determine three-dimensional (3D) electron density maps of the right-handed and left-handed turbine structures (Fig. 1c,e and Supplementary Figs. 6–9 ). The cryo-EM reconstructions showed the desired structural features such as the three blades and the axle, and revealed the twisted orientation of the blades. The twist and the blade angles were measured from the cryo-EM data, yielding a −1.1° bp −1 twist density and a blade angle with respect to the turbine axis of −36° for the right-handed structure, and +0.69° bp −1 and +24° for the left-handed structure (Fig. 1d,f ; for details see Methods and Supplementary Fig. 10 ). The turbine structures were 27 nm and 24 nm tall (right and left handed, respectively) and had diameters of 27 nm and 25 nm, respectively.

figure 1

a , Schematic of a right-handed DNA turbine docked into a nanopore (side view at top; axial view at bottom). b , Two cross-sections of the DNA turbine highlighting the designed twist. c , 3D electron density map of the right-handed DNA turbine determined via single-particle cryo-EM (side and bottom views; see also Supplementary Fig. 2 ). d , Cross-sections at the top and the bottom of the 3D cryo-EM reconstruction right-handed turbine, highlighting the right-handed twist density of −1.1° bp −1 . e , f , The same as c , d but for the left-handed DNA turbine, highlighting the twist density of +0.69° bp −1 . g , Schematic of a right-handed DNA turbine with its load, a 300-nm-long DNA bundle with the middle 220 nm reinforced with 16 DNA helices instead of 6 helices, and a 900 nm looped leash docked onto a solid-state silicon nitride nanopore. h , SNUPI-simulated structure of the right-handed DNA turbine with a DNA bundle attached as a load (leash excluded). i , Negatively stained transmission electron micrograph of a typical right-handed DNA turbine with the load.

Unidirectional rotation of DNA turbines driven by a salinity gradient or transmembrane voltage

To demonstrate that the turbines can generate torque and work, we docked the structure into a nanopore, and optically monitored rotations at the single-molecule level. To create a hydrodynamic load as well as to hold the turbine in the nanopore and to facilitate optical tracking using super-resolution microscopy, we attached a 300-nm-long DNA six-helix bundle as a crossbar featuring a reinforced 220-nm-long central 16-helix bundle segment (Supplementary Fig. 12 ) to the top part of the turbine axle as one continuous rigid body (Fig. 1g ). One end of the DNA bundle was labelled with ten Cy3 fluorophores to allow continuous monitoring of its motion by fluorescence microscopy at 5 ms temporal resolution and sub-diffraction-limit localization precision ( Methods ). A 900-nm-long loop of nicked double-stranded DNA was engineered to extend from the bottom of the axle and act as a leash guiding the insertion of the turbine into the nanopore during the docking process (Fig. 1g ). Coarse-grained simulations (SNUPI 20 ) were used to analyse the structural rigidity of the integrated design (Fig. 1h ). Proper folding of the entire assembly was verified by negative-stained transmission electron microscopy (Fig. 1i ; for details see Methods ). An array of 50-nm-diameter nanopores was fabricated in 20-nm-thickness silicon nitride membranes using electron-beam lithography and reactive ion etching ( Methods ) and characterized with transmission electron microscopy (Supplementary Fig. 13 ).

Our single-molecule observations show that the DNA turbine can drive a unidirectional rotation of the load under a transmembrane gradient of ion concentration. Initially, both compartments of the flow cell were filled with 50 mM NaCl buffer, and the DNA turbines were added to the cis compartment. Subsequently, a higher concentration of NaCl (0.5–3 M) was flushed into the trans compartment (Fig. 2a ), causing the DNA turbines to move towards the nanopores by diffusiophoresis, which led to the insertion of the turbines into the nanopores. As the leash guided the initial insertion of the large structure 21 , the turbine oriented itself upon docking in the designed orientation, where the extended crossbar bundle prevented the turbine from translocating through the nanopore. After docking, we tracked the rotary motion of the DNA bundle by monitoring the position of the fluorophores, which were located at one end of the bundle (Supplementary Fig. 14 ).

figure 2

a , Schematic of a DNA turbine docking onto a nanopore by diffusiophoresis. b , Typical heatmap (blue pixels) of obtained centres of fluorophores at the tip of DNA bundle from single-particle localizations from 8,000 frames ( Methods ) and example trajectory of six subsequent positions of the labelled tip (red), which shows clear directional rotation. c , Typical cumulative angle versus time for a right-handed turbine in 50 mM:1 M NaCl, showing a sustained rotation of hundreds of turns. d , e , Cumulative angle versus time of left-handed ( d ) and right-handed ( e ) turbines for a NaCl concentration gradient of 50 mM:1 M ( n  = 77 and 151, respectively). f , Average rotation speed of left- and right-handed turbines in transmembrane NaCl concentration gradients of 50 mM:500 mM and 50 mM:1 M ( n  = 98, 141, 124 and 74, respectively). In all box plots: centre line, median; box limits, upper and lower quartiles; whiskers, 1.5 × interquartile range.

Source data

As shown in Fig. 2 , we observed clear, directed rotation of the turbine particles. Figure 2b shows the rotary motion of the bundle end, which can be traced to follow a circular path over time. Figure 2c shows the cumulative angular displacement corresponding to the example in Fig. 2b , which continues over 200 clockwise rotations over the full period of observation (40 s in this case). Figure 2d,e shows typical data for 228 turbines, where right- and left-handed turbines led to, respectively, upwards and downwards linear angular rotation curves. The linearity of these curves (and the corresponding superlinear mean-square angular rotation curves; Supplementary Fig. 15 ) is direct evidence of a driven motion. The data show that the DNA turbines can exert a substantial torque on the DNA load bundle and drive it into sustained unidirectional rotary motion.

Importantly, we find that the designed chirality sets the rotation direction. The turbine variant with left-handed turbine blades displayed preferentially anticlockwise rotations (as viewed from the cis side). In contrast, the turbines with right-handed turbine blades showed almost exclusively clockwise rotations. These data indicate that the designed chirality controls the rotation direction. We determined the average angular velocity in different salt-gradient conditions (Fig. 2f and Supplementary Fig. 16 ). The velocity directions corresponded well to the designed chiralities of the structures, and the angular velocities were distributed with noticeable spread, with maximum values as high as ~10 revolutions s −1 . We attribute the spread in the velocity distribution to heterogeneity in the local interactions between the DNA structure and the silicon nitride surface and to potential deformations in the DNA turbine crossbar that can modulate the rotation speed 22 .

Subsequently, we operated the DNA turbines under a transmembrane voltage that was applied across the compartments at an equal 50 mM NaCl concentration. Immediately after applying the transmembrane voltage (100 mV, Fig. 3a,b ), docking and rotary motion of DNA turbines was observed—see Fig. 3b,h for typical traces of a left-handed and a right-handed DNA turbine, respectively. Clear circular trajectories were obtained, indicating a sustained and constant rotary motion over time, very similar to the trajectories observed in the ion-gradient-driven experiments. The extracted rotational velocities of the DNA load bundle showed driven rotary motion, with again predominantly the same rotation direction depending on the chirality of the turbine variant under study, as can be seen in Fig. 3c,i . From the rotational speed of the DNA beam, we estimated the torque of our DNA turbine (Supplementary Section 1 and Supplementary Fig. 20 ) as tens of piconewton nanometres. As a control, we also tested an approximately non-chiral, straight version of the turbine with the same crossbar load (Supplementary Fig. 18 ), which was assembled by removing the residual twist in the blades 18 . For this variant, no preferred rotational directionality was observed, while some residual rotation without preferred directionality was observed due to the self-organization of the DNA crossbar 21 (Supplementary Fig. 18 ).

figure 3

a , Schematic of a DNA turbine docking into and undocking from a nanopore on applying a transmembrane voltage. b , Typical cumulative angle versus time for a left-handed turbine for a 100 mV bias voltage in 50 mM NaCl, showing a sustained rotation over hundreds of turns. Inset: corresponding heatmap (blue pixels) of single-particle localizations for the tip of the DNA bundle with an example trajectory of the labelled tip overlaid. c , Cumulative angular-displacement curves for left-handed turbine-driven DNA bundles as in b but for n  = 210 turbines. d , e , The same as b , c but in 3 M NaCl electrolyte ( n  = 159). f , Average rotation speed for left-handed turbines in NaCl concentrations of 50 mM, 500 mM, 1 M, 2 M and 3 M ( n  = 198, 77, 86, 252 and 150 respectively). g , Mean rotary speed of left-handed turbines for various buffer salt concentrations (Supplementary Fig. 8 ). Error bars are s.e.m. h – m , The same as b – g but for right-handed DNA turbines ( n i  = 174, n k  = 298, n l  = 116, 252, 164, 200 and 260. respectively). In all box plots: centre line, median; box limits, upper and lower quartiles; whiskers, 1.5 × interquartile range. All scale bars are 100 nm.

Direction reversal under a transmembrane voltage

To our surprise, we found that we can control the rotational direction of the DNA turbines by the ionic strength of the buffer. When the voltage-driven experiments were performed in a high-salt buffer containing 3 M NaCl instead of dilute 50 mM, the directionality of the rotary motion reversed for the same turbine. This phenomenon occurred for both turbine chiralities, as shown in Fig. 3d,e,j,k (and corresponding mean square displacement, MSD, plots in Supplementary Fig. 19 ). By titrating the salt concentration from 50 mM to 3 M, we observed that the average rotation speed changed from positive to negative values for the left-handed turbines, that is, rotations changed from anticlockwise to clockwise (and a reverse crossover occurred for right-handed turbines), with a crossover at ~0.5–1 M for both chiralities—see Fig. 3g,m (and corresponding histograms for the speed distribution in Supplementary Figs. 21 and 22 ). These observations point to the appearance of strong ionic effects on the water flow when the turbine operates in a high-ionic-strength environment.

To understand this rotational reversal induced by different ionic strengths, we first sought insights from continuum theory. As a model for the turbine blade, we consider a rigid cylindrical DNA rod that is held in a fixed vertical position in a wide nanopore, oriented at an angle of θ with respect to the z axis (cf. Supplementary Section 1 ). This rod has a hydrodynamic mobility M h that is anisotropic, as a rod moves twice as fast through a liquid along its length as perpendicular to it 23 . Similarly, the electrophoretic mobility M el of the rod, which describes its freely suspended motion in an applied electric field E , is anisotropic 23 . Notably, M el is controlled by the electrical double layer, which changes with the ionic strength of the solution 24 , 25 . The combination of M h and M el determines the in-plane force on a turbine blade in a nanopore, which will drive the rotation. We can derive an expression for the in-plane velocity component v x (Supplementary Section 2 ) as follows:

This equation indicates that the sign of v x , that is, the rotation direction, is determined by the difference between the hydrodynamic and electrophoretic anisotropy ratios. While the hydrodynamic anisotropy ratio M h, ⟂ / M h, ∥ is constant at a value of 0.5, the electrophoretic anisotropy ratio M el, ⟂ / M el, ∥ can adopt values between 0 and 1, depending on ion concentration and DNA surface charge 25 ; for example, M el, ⟂ / M el, ∥ decreases from 1 to 0.5 with decreasing ion concentration for moderate surface charges, and adopts even smaller values for high surface charges 25 . Continuum theory thus indicates that a sign reversal of the rotations may occur due to a change in the electrophoretic anisotropy ratio with salt concentration.

To elucidate the microscopic mechanism of the torque generation, we performed all-atom MD simulations of the DNA origami turbine submerged in a low-salt electrolyte solution (Fig. 4a ). The application of a 100 mV nm −1 axial electric field was observed to rotate the turbine by ~120° in 56 ns in the expected direction (left handed about the applied field axis, Fig. 4b and Supplementary Fig. 24 , see Methods for details). A water flow induced by a pressure gradient was observed to rotate the turbine in the expected direction, whereas reversing the direction of the electric field or the pressure gradient reversed the rotation direction. The turbine’s rotation speed was found to be determined by the velocity of water molecules moving past the blades of the turbine (Supplementary Fig. 25b )—all indicating a rotation mechanism similar to that of a macroscopic turbine. However, in equivalent simulations of the same DNA turbine carried out in 3 M NaCl, the direction of rotation reversed, while the overall rotation speed decreased (Fig. 4d,e ). Furthermore, the average effective torque produced by the turbine under high salt was seen to change sign when compared with the torque under low salt (Fig. 4f ). These MD simulation results thus present a striking qualitative resemblance to the experimental results.

figure 4

a , 4,322,088-atom model of a DNA origami turbine that is depicted using a molecular surface representation (white shaft, multicoloured blades), solvent shown as a semi-transparent surface, and ions (50 mM NaCl, 10 mM Mg 2+ ) shown explicitly. b , Rotation of the turbine driven by electric field (50 mM NaCl). A 100 mV nm −1 field was applied out of the page while restraints prevented the drift and tilting of the turbine. c , Rotation angle of the turbine due to an applied field or pressure gradient. d , e , The same as b , c , but for simulations at 3 M NaCl. A reversal of the rotation direction is observed. f , Torque on the turbine measured by restraining its spin angle. g , Single DNA helix as a minimal model for a turbine blade. A field or pressure gradient is applied along the + z direction. h , Ratio of the electrophoretic and hydrodynamic mobilities for motion perpendicular and parallel to the DNA helical axis observed in simulations of a single DNA helix. Ionic strength is calculated from the average molality observed at distances beyond 6 nm from the helical axis. i , Force on DNA orthogonal to the electric field measured from the single-helix simulations. j , In-plane solvent flow along the x axis in the simulations under an applied electric field. Heat maps depict the average along the helical axis of the DNA. The coordinate system is defined in g . k , Solvent forces extracted from MD simulation under an applied electric field. l , Force on DNA orthogonal to the applied force axis when, as a control, the solvent forces extracted from the low- and high-salt systems are applied to high- and low-salt systems, respectively. The forces were seen to reverse when compared with those in i , proving the causal role of the ion distribution.

To understand the ion-concentration-dependent reversal of the effective torque, we simulated a DNA duplex that was oriented parallel or perpendicular (Supplementary Fig. 26a ) to an applied electric field. The observed M el, ⟂ / M el, ∥ did indeed change with the measured salt concentration, from about 1 at 2.6 M NaCl to 0.38 at 4 mM NaCl (Fig. 4h and Supplementary Fig. 26b )—a very notable change that would reverse the direction of rotation according to the continuum model. To determine the microscopic mechanism of the rotation reversal, we simulated a DNA duplex that was tilted by 35° relative to the vertically applied field (Fig. 4g ), which approximates the inclination of the blades in our turbines. While the duplex’s centre of mass and the spinning angle were harmonically restrained, we measured the effective in-plane force F x acting on the duplex (Fig. 4i ). At low salt a negative force was measured, as expected, whereas at high salt the average in-plane force was reversed to a positive value. As the flow profile around the DNA (Fig. 4j ) is driven by the distribution of charges in the solvent, we calculated a 3D map of the solvent forces—the position-dependent average force on solvent voxels applied by the electric field ( Methods ). The map revealed a slight overcharging of the DNA in the 3 M condition (Fig. 4k ), which was nevertheless sufficient to substantially alter the flow of solvent near the DNA (Fig. 4j ). To prove the causal role of the ion distribution, we applied the high-/low-salt solvent force on the low-/high-salt systems which, gratifyingly, swapped the effective force distributions (Fig. 4l ).


In summary, we have demonstrated a new type of autonomous active nanomachine, a DNA nanoturbine. We have shown its functionality from the observation of a sustained rotation of a DNA load bundle when the turbines were driven by an electrophoretic or hydrodynamic flow of solvent through a nanoscale pore. Building from our previous work 22 , 26 , the direction of rotation is now controlled by the designed chirality of the turbine blades as well as by the ionic strength of the buffer. The latter revealed, strikingly, that ionic interactions can even reverse the rotation direction, as the electrophoretic mobility anisotropy changes with buffer salt concentration. Up to tens of piconewton nanometres of torque can be generated by these merely ~25-nm-tall turbines (an order of magnitude smaller than previously reported DNA origami rotors) 22 , numbers that are comparable to those of the F o motor of ATP synthase 17 . The DNA turbines could operate autonomously on physiologically and biologically compatible energy sources (electrochemical potentials) and work at a scale comparable to nature’s own motor proteins, without requiring manual cyclic intervention.

Our work demonstrates a practical approach to designing nanoscale active engines, that is, by using chiral nanoscale structures to leverage transmembrane potential differences through nanoscale hydrodynamic interactions 15 . We believe this to be a powerful new approach to building active nanoscale systems, in particular because of the extensible design with DNA nanotechnology, its flexibility and potential for integration with various biocompatible membrane systems, and its potential compatibility with physiological environments. As in ATP synthase, microscopic reversibility may be exploited in future variants of such turbines to couple this mechanical rotation to uphill chemical synthesis. Nanoscale hydrodynamic turbines constitute biocompatible engines that may serve as a step towards building self-powered nanorobotic systems in environments relevant to molecular biology. Current limitations of our approach include the non-specific interaction between the turbine and the solid surface, the wide variance of the rotational speed and the finite power efficiency. Further work can be done to demonstrate nanorobotic systems based on the turbine concept, specifically the integration of nanoscale motors into biocompatible membranes, improving their efficiency in utilizing ion gradients and integrating them with other passive functional nanomachines to perform more complex tasks.

Nanopore array fabrication

Nanopore arrays are fabricated as reported before 27 . In brief, a 100-nm-thick layer of poly(methyl methacrylate) electron-sensitive resist (molecular weight 950,000, 3% dissolved in anisole, MicroChem Corp) was spin-coated on 20 nm free-standing silicon nitride membranes supported by silicon. Subsequently, the resist was exposed and patterned by an electron-beam pattern generator (EBPG5200, Raith) with 100 keV electron beams. The pattern is developed in a mixture of methyl-isobutyl-ketone and isopropanol with a ratio of 1:3 for 1 min, then stopped in isopropanol for 30 s. The exposed substrates were then etched using reactive-ion etching with fluoroform and argon (200 s, 50 W, 50 sccm of CHF 3 , 25 sccm of Ar, 10 μbar, SENTECH SI 200 plasma system). Finally, the resist was removed in oxygen plasma for 1 min (200 cm 3  min −1 O 2 , 100 W, PVA TePla 300) followed by an acetone bath for 5 min.

Design, folding and purification of DNA origami structures

All structures were designed using caDNAno v.0.2 28 . For the cryo-EM reconstruction of the turbine part, all structures were designed with a compact beam on top of each turbine structure (Supplementary Figs. 6 and 7 ) and designed only using a 7,560-base-long scaffold. The folding reaction mixtures contained a final scaffold concentration of 50 nM and oligonucleotide strands (IDT) of 500 nM. The folding reaction buffer contained 5 mM Tris, 1 mM EDTA, 5 mM NaCl and 20 mM MgCl 2 . The folding solutions were thermally annealed using TETRAD (MJ Research, now Bio-Rad) thermal cycling devices. The reactions were left at 65 °C for 15 min and then subsequently subjected to a thermal annealing ramp from 60 °C to 20 °C (1 °C h −1 ). The folded structures were purified from excess oligonucleotides by physical extraction from agarose gels and stored at room temperature until further usage. The list of oligonucleotides can be found in Supplementary Information .

The turbine structure with a long DNA bundle as load was designed using a scaffold of 8,064 bases and a scaffold of 9,072 bases. The folding reaction mixtures contained a final scaffold concentration of 10 nM plus oligonucleotide strands (IDT) of 100 nM each. The folding reaction buffer contained 5 mM Tris, 1 mM EDTA, 5 mM NaCl and 15 mM MgCl 2 for the left-handed and right-handed versions or 20 mM MgCl 2 for the achiral version of the turbine. The folding reaction mixtures were thermally annealed using TETRAD (MJ Research) thermal cycling devices. The reactions were left at 65 °C for 15 min and then subjected to a thermal annealing ramp from 60 °C to 20 °C (1 °C h −1 ). The folded structures were purified from excess oligonucleotides by polyethylene glycol precipitation and stored at room temperature until further usage. Details of all the procedures can be found in ref. 29 .

Cryo-EM sample preparation, image acquisition and processing

Grid preparation, image acquisition and data processing were largely performed as reported previously 30 . The sample was applied to a glow-discharged C-Flat 1.2/1.3 4C thick grid (Protochips) and vitrified using a Vitrobot mark IV (FEI, now Thermo Scientific) at a temperature of 22 °C, a humidity of 100%, 0 s wait time, 2 s blot time, −1 blot force (arbitrary device units) and 0 s drain time. Micrograph videos with 10 frames were collected for the right-handed and left-handed versions (3,427 and 5,997 respectively) at a magnified pixel size of 2.28 Å and an accumulated dose of ~60 e Å − 2 using the EPU software and a Falcon 3 detector (FEI) on a Cs-corrected (CEOS) 300 kV Titan Krios electron microscope (FEI). For the left-handed version, acquisition with a stage tilt of 20° was used to reduce the orientation bias of the particles.

Motion correction and contrast transfer function estimation of the micrographs were performed using the implementation in RELION 4.0 beta 31 , 32 and CTFFIND4, respectively 33 . Particles were autopicked using TOPAZ 34 and subjected to a selection process consisting of multiple rounds of 2D and 3D classification in RELION to remove falsely picked particles and damaged particles. Using an ab initio initial model, a refined 3D map was reconstructed from 97,054 and 71,992 particles for the right-handed and left-handed versions, respectively, followed by per-particle motion correction and dose weighting and 3D refinement (Supplementary Figs. 6 and 7 ). For a focused reconstruction of the turbine, multibody refinement 35 was performed. The consensus map was divided into two parts containing the lever and the turbine using the eraser tool in UCSF Chimera 36 , and low-pass-filtered soft masks of the respective regions were created in RELION (Supplementary Figs. 8 and 9 ). After multibody refinement, a set of particles with the subtracted signal of the lever arm was calculated and subjected to another round of 3D refinement. The final maps were masked, sharpened and low-pass filtered using the estimated resolution based on the 0.143 Fourier shell correlation criterion. Atomic models were constructed using a cascaded relaxation protocol as described previously 30 (Supplementary Fig. 11 ).

The dimensions of the turbines were measured in Fiji 37 using orthographic projections of the maps created with ChimeraX 38 . For the twist measurement of the turbine versions, slices from the well resolved central parts were extracted from the cryo-EM density maps using atomic model fits at base-pair positions that are on the same plane in the design, with a spacing of 33 bp and 34 bp for the right- and the left-handed version, respectively (Supplementary Fig. 10 ). For each version, the slices were fitted into each other on the basis of maximum overlay using ChimeraX 38 to determine the rotation angle. From the twist density, the diameter and the length of the helices, the outer blade angle with respect to the helical axes was calculated.

Single-particle fluorescence imaging

Solid-state nanopore chips were oxygen-plasma cleaned before all the fluorescence experiments (100 W for 1 min, Plasma Prep III, SPI Supplies). Coverslips (VWR, no. 1.5) were cleaned by ultrasonication sequentially in acetone, isopropanol, water, 1 M KOH solution and deionized water (Milli-Q) for 30 min each. The cleaned coverslips were then blow-dried thoroughly with compressed nitrogen. The nanopore chip was glued into the PDMS (SYLGARD 184 silicone elastomer) flow cell using a two-component silicone rubber (Ecoflex 5, Smooth-ON), then the PDMS flow cell was bonded to the cleaned coverslip after oxygen-plasma treatment (50 W, 50 mbar for 30 s) and post-bake at 120 °C for 30 min. After assembly, the whole device was again treated with oxygen plasma (50 W, 50 mbar) for 4 min before embedding a pair of Ag/AgCl electrodes, one in each side of the reservoir, and flushing in deionized water to wet the channels. This is essential for increasing the hydrophilicity of the membrane and ensuring a negatively charged silicon nitride surface. The PDMS nanopore devices were always assembled shortly before each experiment and never reused.

The nanopore chip was then imaged using an epifluorescence microscope with a ×60 water immersion objective (Olympus UPlanSApo, numerical aperture 1.20) and a fast scientific complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor camera (Prime BSI, Teledmy Photometrics). The camera field of view was reduced as needed to achieve high frame rates (typically around 200 pixels × 200 pixels). To image Cy3-labelled DNA turbines, a 561 nm laser (Stradus, Vortran Laser Technology) was used to excite the fluorophores. The typical exposure time of the experiments was 5 ms, which led to a frame rate of around 190–200 fps. To simplify the data analysis, a fixed frame rate value (200 fps) is used. Before imaging, the imaging buffer (50 mM Tris-HCl pH 7.5; 50 mM NaCl unless otherwise stated, 5 mM MgCl 2 ; 1 mM dithiothreitol, 5% (w/v) d -dextrose, 2 mM Trolox, 40 μg ml −1 glucose oxidase, 17 μg ml −1 catalase; 0.05% TWEEN 20) was placed into the reservoirs on either side of the silicon nitride membrane.

Driving DNA turbines using transmembrane ion gradients

An imaging buffer with the same salt concentration (50 mM NaCl) was flushed into the flow cell first, with DNA turbines on the cis side of the membrane. Subsequently, an imaging buffer containing a higher NaCl concentration was flushed into the trans side of the membrane. With single-particle fluorescence microscopy, the docking and rotation of the DNA turbines could be observed and recorded. To release the turbines from the nanopore, we either inserted a pair of temporary electrodes into the inlet and outlet of the flow channels and released the turbines electrically, or we flushed in the same (lower-concentration) buffer as the cis side. Because of the photobleaching and accumulation of the DNA turbines near nanopore arrays, we chose 40 s as a typical observation duration. Examples of longer recordings are shown in Supplementary Fig. 23 .

Driving DNA turbines using transmembrane voltages

In contrast to the salt-gradient-driven mode, a pair of electrodes was embedded into the flow cells. We used a custom-built circuit to apply voltages 39 . The output voltage was controlled by a custom LabVIEW program. The electrodes embedded in the two reservoirs were connected to the circuit. The DNA origami turbines were placed into the electrically grounded side ( cis side) of the flow cell with a typical concentration of 1 pM. After applying the voltage, the DNA turbines were docked onto the nanopores under a 100 mV bias voltage (unless otherwise stated) across the membrane. The turbines could be easily released from the nanopore array by flipping the voltage polarity and then setting it to 0 mV for several seconds to allow the imaged turbines to diffuse away from the capture region. To avoid overcrowding of DNA turbines near the nanopore array, which increased the fluorescence background fluctuation, we typically imaged the turbines before the array was fully filled, and subsequently released them from the nanopore. Then a new group of turbines could be captured and docked again by applying a positive bias.

Fluorescence microscopy data analysis

For image processing, first a single-molecule localization was carried out using Fiji (ImageJ 37 ) with the ThunderSTORM plugin 40 for all frames in the acquired image sequences. A wavelet filter (B-spline) and an integrated Gaussian method were used for the localizations. Then the results were filtered on the basis of their quality (uncertainty < 50 nm) and the local density (filter of 15 particles in every 50 nm among all localized data points in the sequence) to rule out free-diffusing (non-captured) turbines. Next, the single-molecule localization results were analysed using a custom MATLAB script (Code availability). In brief, all coordinates of localized particle positions were clustered on the basis of their Euclidean distance for each turbine. When localized particle positions were deduced in a video, a circle was fitted to the data to obtain the centre and a radius, which subsequently was used for calculating the angular position of the fluorophores in each frame. Next, we determined if the fluorophores occupy spatial states that can be fitted to a circular path. We did this by comparing the point density of the coordinates within an annulus around the fitted circular perimeter (±1 nm) with the density of points around the centre (with a radius r , so that the area of this central circle is equal to that of the ring region). If the point density within the annulus was higher, then this data group would be kept in the statistics, else it would be considered an invalid trajectory and discarded. Finally, the script calculated all necessary motion properties of the turbine, including its cumulative angular displacements, MSD, angular velocity and torque. The angular velocity ω d was determined by fitting MSD =  ω d 2 t 2  + 2 D r t to the MSD curve of each turbine, where t is the lag time and D r is the rotational diffusion coefficient (also as a fitting parameter). The estimation of the torque is discussed in Supplementary Section 1 .

MD simulations

All MD simulations were performed using the NAMD program 41 , CHARMM36 parameters for DNA, water and ions 42 with CUFIX 43 corrections, periodic boundary conditions and the TIP3P model of water 44 . The long-range electrostatic interactions were computed using the particle-mesh Ewald scheme over a grid with 1 Å spacing 45 . Van der Waals and short-range electrostatic forces were evaluated using the 10–12 Å smooth cutoff scheme. Hydrogen mass repartitioning 46 and the SHAKE 47 and SETTLE 48 algorithms were used, enabling a 4 fs integration time step. The full electrostatics were calculated every two-time step. Except where specified, a Langevin thermostat with a 0.1 ps −1 damping coefficient maintained a temperature of 295 K in all simulations. Coordinates were recorded every 2,500 steps.

Atomistic models of the entire turbine were assembled from the caDNAno 28 design file using a custom mrdna script 49 . In addition to neutralizing Mg 2+ , 10 mM Mg 2+ hexahydrate was placed adjacent to the DNA according to a previously described protocol 43 . Water and monovalent ions were added to the system using the solvate and autoionize plugins for VMD 50 , with the solvent box cut to form a hexagonal prism. For each salt condition, a 4 ns simulation was performed with a Nosé–Hoover Langevin piston barostat 51 , 52 set to maintain a target pressure of 1 bar, allowing the equilibrium volume of the system to be determined. The resulting system dimensions were used in constant-volume simulations to equilibrate the turbine with harmonic position restraints holding the phosphorus atoms to their initial coordinates during the first 7 ns of the simulation ( k spring  = 1 kcal mol –1  Å –2 for t  < 5 ns; 0.1 for 5 ns <  t  < 7 ns). After 30 ns of equilibration for the 50 mM and 75 ns for the 3 M system, a snapshot of the configuration was used to initialize subsequent simulations with either an electric field or pressure gradient applied to drive the turbine. Additional equilibration was performed for the 50 mM NaCl system for another 128 ns to initialize the ‘Alternate conf.’ system (Supplementary Fig. 24 ).

The conformation of the turbine at the end of equilibration was used to determine the rest positions of several harmonic collective variable (colvar) 53 potentials, including a spring restraining the centre of mass of every third phosphorus atom ( k spring  = 500 kcal mol –1  Å –2 ); a spring restraining the root-mean-square deviation (RMSD) of these phosphorus atoms with respect to the post-equilibration configuration ( k spring  = 1,000 kcal mol –1  Å –2 ; resting RMSD = 0), after optimal rigid body transformations so that the potential does not apply a net torque or force; and a pair of centre of mass harmonic restraints applied to 16-bp-long sections of the central six-helix bundle ( k spring  = 50 kcal mol –1  Å –2 ), placed near either the end of the shaft to prevent the turbine from tilting. With these colvars preventing translation, conformational fluctuations, or tilting of the turbine, an electric field was applied by placing a constant force on each atom with a magnitude proportional to the charge of the atom. Similarly, a pressure gradient was achieved by placing a small force on every water molecule of the system. Finally, in simulations where the torque was measured, an additional spin angle colvar ( k spring  = 100 kcal mol –1  ° –2 ) prevented rotation of the turbine and reported the torque.

Simulation systems were prepared to study the forces on and flows around a DNA helix mimicking the DNA in the turbine blade. The 21 bp helix was made effectively infinite by connecting the ends of each strand across the periodic boundary. Solvent (neutralizing Na + , 100 mM and 3 M NaCl; no Mg 2+ ) was added around the helix. Systems were equilibrated for 5–50 ns with the DNA phosphorus atoms harmonically restrained ( k spring  = 0.2 kcal mol –1  Å –2 ). Mobility measurements were performed using a field of 5 mV nm −1 or a hydrostatic pressure of ~1.3 bar nm −1 parallel or transverse to the helical axis, with each condition employing four replicate simulations lasting a total of 400 (neutralizing Na + ) to 4,000 ns (3 M). Except where otherwise specified, a 100 mV nm −1 electric field was applied to the system at a 35° angle with respect to the DNA while a centre of mass colvar restrained the DNA ( k spring  = 500 kcal mol –1  Å –2 ), an RMSD colvar retained an idealized DNA configuration ( k spring  = 100 kcal mol –1  Å –2 ) and a spin angle colvar ( k spring  = 100 kcal mol –1  ° –2 ) prevented rotation of the DNA and reported on the torque. Eight replicate systems were employed during simulations lasting a total of 1,040 ns (100 mM) or 2,055 ns (3 M). The flow and concentration of ions and water oxygen atoms were analysed by binning the system into ~1 Å voxels, counting the flux through and concentration in each voxel using a centred finite-difference approximation for the flux. The difference in concentration between sodium and chloride ions provided the net local charge density of the fluid around the DNA in each case. Multiplying this charge by the electric field provided the solvent force. In subsequent simulations, the 3D map of the solvent force was used to apply a position-dependent force to each water oxygen atom using the TclBC feature of NAMD and employing the approximation that the density of water oxygen atoms is uniformly 33 nm − 3 . Again, eight replicate systems were employed for simulations lasting a total of 480 and 570 ns for 100 mM and 3 M conditions, respectively.

Statistics and reproducibility

No statistical method was used to predetermine the sample size.

Data availability

The electron density maps of the left- and right-handed turbines are available in the Electron Microscopy Data Bank (EMDB) as entries EMD- 17600 and EMD- 17606 , respectively. Fluorescence microscopy and nanopore experimental data are available at https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.8091178 . Simulation trajectory data are available at https://doi.org/10.13012/B2IDB-3458097_V1 . Source data are provided with this paper.

Code availability

The corresponding MATLAB scripts for data processing and producing the final figures are available at https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.8091178 . Scripts related to simulation set-up and analysis are available at https://doi.org/10.13012/B2IDB-3458097_V1 .

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We thank M. Tišma for help with fluorescence microscopy imaging and P. Ketterer for initial turbine designs. We acknowledge funding support by the ERC Advanced Grant no. 883684 and the NanoFront and BaSyC programmes (to C.D.). This work was further supported by an ERC Consolidator Grant to H.D. (GA no. 724261), the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft via the Gottfried-Wilhelm-Leibniz Programme (to H.D.) and the SFB863 Project ID 111166240 TPA9 (to H.D.). A.A. and C.M. acknowledge support through the National Science Foundation (USA) under grant DMR-1827346 (to A.A.). This work has received support from the Max Planck School Matter to Life and the MaxSynBio Consortium, which are jointly funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) of Germany, and the Max Planck Society (to R.G.). Supercomputer time was provided through Leadership Resource Allocation MCB20012 on Frontera and through ACCESS allocation MCA05S028.

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Present address: Department of Chemistry, KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium

Daniel Verschueren

Present address: The SW7 Group, London, UK

Authors and Affiliations

Department of Bionanoscience, Kavli Institute of Nanoscience Delft, Delft University of Technology, Delft, The Netherlands

Xin Shi, Wenxuan Zhao, Daniel Verschueren & Cees Dekker

Department of Bioscience, School of Natural Sciences, Technical University of Munich, Garching, Germany

Anna-Katharina Pumm, Fabian Kohler, Elija Feigl & Hendrik Dietz

Munich Institute of Biomedical Engineering, Technical University of Munich, Garching, Germany

Anna-Katharina Pumm

Department of Physics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL, USA

Christopher Maffeo & Aleksei Aksimentiev

Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization, Göttingen, Germany

Ramin Golestanian

Rudolf Peierls Centre for Theoretical Physics, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK

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H.D. and C.D. conceived the concept of DNA turbines in nanopores and nanopore arrays. A.-K.P. and X.S. co-designed the geometries of the turbines. A.-K.P. designed and prepared the DNA origami structures. X.S. designed the nanopore experiment and fabricated nanopore devices, supported by D.V. X.S. and W.Z. conducted nanopore experiments. F.K. performed cryo-EM measurements; E.F. performed EM data analysis and the atomic model construction. X.S. and D.V. wrote the data analysis scripts and analysed data. R.G. constructed the continuum model. C.M. and A.A. designed and conducted MD simulations. All authors discussed the findings and co-wrote the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Aleksei Aksimentiev , Hendrik Dietz or Cees Dekker .

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Supplementary information

Supplementary information.

Supplementary text, Figs. 1–26 and video captions.

Supplementary Table 1

DNA origami sequences for the turbines.

Supplementary Video 1

MD simulation of the right-handed DNA turbine rotation in 100 mM NaCl under electric field, as shown in Fig. 4.

Supplementary Video 2

MD simulation of the right-handed DNA turbine rotation in 3 M NaCl under electric field, as shown in Fig. 4.

Source Data Fig. 2

Source Data Fig. 2.

Source Data Fig. 3

Source Data Fig. 3.

Source Data Fig. 4

Source Data Fig. 4.

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Shi, X., Pumm, AK., Maffeo, C. et al. A DNA turbine powered by a transmembrane potential across a nanopore. Nat. Nanotechnol. (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41565-023-01527-8

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Nanotechnology: Applications and Implications Research Paper

Nanotechnology is an emerging technology which is developing at an exponential rate. The technology utilizes novel characteristics of materials that are exhibited only at nanoscale level. Although still in early stages, this technology has signaled potential and breakthroughs in many areas such as medicine, computer technology, food industry, building construction, environment protection to mention just a few.

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The many exciting products it promises have served to draw a lot of attention to it. Many findings of nanotechnology are quickly being implemented in viable commercial products. This is in spite of insufficient toxicological data about the environmental and biological effects of such nanomaterials.

As nanotechnology gains widespread application in various disciplines, it is imperative to understand its potential effects. This is important for its long terms sustainability. It is also equally critical to set up necessary control legislations and benchmark standards to control research and commercial application of this emerging technology.

The last half of the last century witnessed the technological world going “micro” evidenced by microdevices and microparticles. However, from the start of 21 st century, the “micro” is poised to give way to the “Nano”. Nanotechnology is an emerging technology that is offering promises of breakthroughs cutting across multiple subjects such as medicine, food industry, energy sector and environmental remediation to mention a few.

The Potential of nanotechnology to solve hitherto “unsolvable” problems by conventional technologies has attracted the attention of government and commercial corporations with diverse interests. Billions of dollars for research and development continue to be channeled to nanotechnology projects all over the world. This paper presents the potential applications of nano-inventions in selected areas of medicine, pollution control, energy, construction, computer technology, and food sectors.

While the benefits of this emerging technology appear to be immense, its environmental and social effects also need to be given as much attention. Nanotechnology is a relatively nascent industry and its potential uses and effects need to be exhaustively established researched before mass production and commercialization. Nanotechnology is the most significant emerging technology today and will play a major role in social, economic, and environmental developments in this century.

What is nanotechnology?

Nanotechnology is the “creation of functional materials, devices, and systems through the manipulation of matter at a length of ~1-100 nm” (Srinivas, et al., 2010).

At such scale, matter exhibits new properties unlike those observed at larger scales (Wickson, Baun, & Grieger, 2010). This includes enhanced plasticity, change in thermal properties, enhanced reactivity and catalysis, negative refractivity, faster ion/electron transport and novel quantum mechanical properties (Vaddiraju, Tomazos, Burgess, Jain, & Papadimitrakopoulos, 2010).

The novel properties of matter at nanoscale has been explained by the presence of quantum effect, increase in surface area to volume ratio and alterations in atomic configurations (Wickson et al., 2010). The properties of nanomaterials may be characterized in terms of size, shape, crystallinity, light absorption and scattering, chemical composition, surface area, assembly structure, surface structure, as well as surface charge.

Some of the techniques used in nanoscience to study these properties include Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM), Energy Dispersive X-ray Analysis (EDX), Atomic Force Microscopy (ATM), Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM), X-ray Diffraction (XRD), UV-Vis-nIR Spectroscopy, Extended X-ray Absorption Fine structure (EXAFS) , Photoluminescence Spectroscopy (XPS), Chemisorption among other new only developed ones.

The applications of nanotechnology are as a result of investigating and utilizing these properties (Wickson et al., 2010). There are a host of substances utilised in nanotechnology, the most researched ones are carbon, silicon dioxide and titanium dioxide (Robinson, 2010). Others are aluminum, zinc, silver, copper and gold (Robinson, 2010).

Nanotechnology projects continue to channel out a wide range of applications at a very high rate (Dang, Zhang, Fan, Chen, & C.Roco, 2010). This exponential growth rate is evident from the number of patent applications. Data by Dang and fellow researchers (2010) shows that patent application for nanotechnology inventions in developed countries increased from zero percent in 1991 to about 27 % in 2008 and that this growth is set to continue for the better part of this century.

Applications of nanotechnology

Spurred by huge funding from government and commercial players, nanotechnology projects continue to release more and more potential innovations into the market. This may be an indication that nanotechnology will in future play a pivotal role in scientific and economic development (Dang et al., 2010). Nanotechnology may be a critical solution for companies seeking to stay ahead of competitors. The potential of nanotechnology appears limitless as can be shown by the number of areas where it is already being applied.


This field encompasses pharmaceutical and medical nanotechnology. It is one of the most active areas of nanotechnology due it promises of novel therapeutic applications in crucial areas such as cancer therapy, drug delivery, imaging, biosensors and diagnosis.

Nanoparticles have been cited as having great potential in vivo imaging applications (Solomon & D’Souza, 2011). Already, a surface functionalized iron oxide nanoparticle is being used in modern imaging technologies such as magnetomotive imaging. This type of imaging is comparatively powerful and is expected to improve disease diagnosis significantly.

Nanoparticles are also being engineered to be used to enhance drug biodistribution and delivery to target sites in the body. This approach seeks to deliver drug agents to affected sites without damaging the healthy cells. This has been promising in the case of solid tumors whereby a transferrin-modified cyclodextrin nanoparticle successfully delivered anti-tumor agents to the target tumor site in human subjects (Solomon & D’Souza, 2011).

Nanoparticles have also displayed the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier, a major impediment to drug delivery to the brain, thus offering hope of improving the efficacy of some drugs. It has also been reported that nanoparticles conjugated to model antigens have been able to stimulate immunity in mice (Solomon & D’Souza, 2011). This indicates potential for application in improving vaccine therapy.

Elsewhere, nanoparticles have been used to engineer self-assembled tissue capable of repairing damaged tissues in rats though this is yet to be replicated in humans. Another area that has generated much interest is in production of microscopic and highly sensitive in vitro and in vivo biosensors. This application holds the promise of increasing portability and lowering the cost of such devices.

Nanoparticles are increasingly gaining application in cancer therapy. Nanoparticles are for this purpose is characterized by surface modifications that enable them interact with receptors of target cells. This makes it possible to develop therapies targeting cancerous cells only while leaving out healthy cells.

Free radical such as superoxide, hydroxides and peroxides has been known to produce disease initiating changes in cells. To counter this adverse effect, neuroprotective compound is being developed using carbon-60 fullerene (Silva, 2010). In terms of detection of biochemical compounds carbon nanotubes have been used for detection DNA and proteins in serum samples.

Nanotechnology has opened up new possibilities in regard to medical application. The technology has potential to alter medical therapy in many ways.

Pollution control

Waste disposal remains a challenging task for many industries. Current waste disposal technologies are expensive and require a lot of time to render the waste less harmful. In addition, current processes such as air stripping, carbon adsorption, biological reactors or chemical precipitation produce highly toxic wastes that require further disposal (Karn, Kuiken, & Otto, 2009).

Nanoremediation is a new form of waste disposal mechanism that utilizes nanoparticles to detoxify pollutants. nZVI, a nanoscale zero-valent iron has gained widespread use in this area and has been applied in remediating polluted in situ groundwater. This technology has been cited as cost-effective and faster compared to traditional pump-and-treat methods (Karn et al., 2009).

Other forms of pollution solutions employ the use of nanocatalysts. Just like biological and chemical catalysts, nanocatalysts speed up chemical reaction leading to decomposition of the reactive species. This is already being used to detoxify harmful vapor in cars and industrial machinery. Notable ongoing projects in pollution control include research on the recycling greenhouse gas emissions using carbon nanotubes (CNT) (Zhao, 2009).

For his effort, the researcher for this “green” solution received an $ 85,000 Foundation Research Excellence Award (Zhao, 2009). Nanoparticles have also been used to treat highly polluted industrial waste (Zhao, 2009). Nanotechnology is also aiding in improving current water purification technologies. The technology has made it possible to decrease the membrane pores to nanoscale levels leading to greater filtration power.

Energy applications

Nanotechnology has offered promises and potential for development of efficient and long-lasting energy devices. Nanofabricated energy storage compounds have been cited as potentially beneficial as they may serve as replacement for traditional environmentally harmful fossil fuels.

It is expected that nanoscience for energy application will transfer the nano-scale effects of energy carriers such as photons, phonons, electrons, and molecules to conventional photovoltaic, photochemical solar cells, thermoelectric, fuel cells and batteries. This is expected to greatly enhance the capacity, life, and efficiency of such energy producers. Laboratory tests have already shown that the nanomaterials-based electrodes enhance the charge storage capacity and reaction rates in fuel cells.

Also, nanomaterials such as carbon nanotubes and carbon nanohorns are proving useful in energy application due to their ability to provide excellent conductivity for charge transport (Yimin, 2011). Some nanomaterials e.g., PbTe-based quantum dot superlattice system, have demonstrated improved energy conversion efficiency. This property has been suggested to be replicated to produce more energy-efficient thermoelectric devices used to convert waste heat energy into electricity (Yimin, 2011).

This is necessary as the energy efficiency of most thermoelectric devices is very low. In terms of energy conservation, semiconductor nanostructures are actively being explored for the development of highly luminous and efficient light-emitting diodes (LED). This can have a significant impact in energy conservation as lighting uses about 20% of the total electric power generated (Yimin, 2011). Nanostructures are also gaining application in solar energy technologies.

Nonastructured photovoltaic materials have been cited as potentially significant in improving the efficiency of solar energy-based devices. To this end, nanomaterials, such as quantum dots and dye-sensitized semiconductors, are being tested for the possible production of next-generation solar devices projects (Yimin, 2011).

Nanotechnology has the potential to revolutionize man-made energy. Although still, in early phases, nanomaterials have the potential to deliver efficient, high capacity, clean and more durable energy solutions. The challenge, perhaps, remains the development of controlled large scale manufacturing approaches that will ensure greater realization of the powers of these promising materials.

Food nanotechnology

Application of nanoscience in food industry has opened up numerous new possibilities for the food sector. Areas that have gained prominence in this area include food packaging and preservation. Attention to this sector has been contributed by projections of enormous economic gains it offers. Data shows that sales of nanotechnology products to food and beverage packaging sector is expected to surpass US $20.4 billion beyond 2010 (Sozer & Kokini, 2008).

Already, bionanocomposites, which are nanostructures with enhanced mechanical, thermal, and porosity properties, are being used in food packaging. Additional benefits of bionanocomposites include being environmentally friendly as are they are biodegradable as well as increasing the food shelf life (Sozer & Kokini, 2008). Bioactive packaging materials made of nanomaterials have been used in controlling oxidation of foodstuffs and formation of undesirable textures and flavors (Sozer & Kokini, 2008).

One of the nanomaterials with high potential here is carbon nanotube. Apart from offering enhanced mechanical properties to food packaging materials, it has been discovered that the same tube could be possessing effective antimicrobial effects.

This is due to the fact that Escherichia coli bacteria have been found to immediately die upon coming in contact with aggregated nanotubes (Sekhon, 2010). Another area being explored is the fortification of food packaging with nano active additives that would allow controlled release of nutrient into the stored food.

Nanomaterials have also been said to have potential application in food preservation. Nanosensors made to fluoresce in different colors when in contact with food spoilage microorganisms, have been selected as a possible solution. This may reduce the time it takes to detect food spoilage and thus lessen cases of food poisoning.

Examples are nanosilica, already used in food packaging and nanoselenium, which has been added into some beverage and said to enhance uptake of selenium. Nano-iron is also available and is used as a health supplement, although it can also be used in the treatment of contaminated water. Said to be still under development, nanosalt has to be cited as having the benefit of enabling reduction in dietary salt intake.

Another nanoagent, nanoemulsion is already being used to add nanoemulfied bioctives and flavors to beverages (Sekhon, 2010). Nanoemulsions have also proved effective against gram-negative bacteria, a major food pathogen (Sekhon, 2010). Elsewhere scientists have also reported improved bioavailability and color changes brought about by iron/zinc-containing nanostructures.

Other areas being explored include probiotics and edible nanocoatings. Probiotics will entail using nanofabrications to deliver beneficial bacterial cells to the gut system while edible nanocoatings will be in the form of edible coatings to provide barrier to moisture, gas exchange, and deliver food enhancement additives.

It is clear that nanotechnology presents unlimited opportunities to the food industry. However, just like the controversy that followed GMOs food, foodstuffs bearing nano components are surely bound to generate a prolonged public debate. This is because the effects of such miniscule particles in the consumer body remain unclear. Nevertheless, given the nascent nature of nanotechnology, such opposition is expected.

Computer technology

Nanotechnology is expected to revolutionize computer architecture technologies. Current processors have an unofficial limit of 4 GHz. This year a synthetic material capable of replacing silicon, the long-standing semiconductor of choice in the 20th century, and attaining a clock speed of 6 GHz was unveiled (Partyka & Mazur, 2012).

This is because nanotechnology presents the possibility of adding even more transistors per a nanometric length than what is possible through current microprocessor development technologies.

What is even more interesting is that this development could not have come at a more opportune time as silicon processors are expected to have attained their maximum performance by 2020 (Partyka & Mazur, 2012). This year scientists have also announced the successful development of a Nano transistor “based on single molecules of a chemical compound” (Partyka & Mazur, 2012, n.p).

Application of nanotechnology in construction

Nanotechnology portends immense benefits for the future of the construction sector. From the amazing self-cleaning window to the “smog-eating” concrete, this technology has the capability of transforming building materials to new levels in terms of energy, light, strength, security, beauty and intelligence (Halicioglu, 2009).

The development of super-strength plastics has a possible application in diverse areas such as in cars, trucks, and planes where it can serve to replace heavy metals leading to significant energy savings (Zhao, 2009). Nanomaterials such as carbon nanotubes have been found to possess strength and flexibility on a much larger scale compared known strong materials such as steel. Nanocoatings have been suggested as possible solutions to insulation, microbial activity, and mildew growth in buildings (Halicioglu, 2009).

Nanotechnology is expected to produce unique bio-products characterized by hyper-performance and superior serviceability (Halicioglu, 2009).

Notable nanoparticles already in use in construction are titanium dioxide (TiO 2 ) and carbon nanotubes (CNT’s). Titanium dioxide is being used in degrading pollutants in buildings while carbon nanotubes have been applied in strengthening and monitoring concrete (Halicioglu, 2009).

Just like other applications of nanotechnology, nanomaterials are used in construction sector yet their environmental, health effect, and other risks remain unclear. However, despite this drawback, nanotechnology has the potential to revolutionize building design and construction in the near future.

Concerns about nanotechnology

Concerns have been raised about nanotechnology. Nanoparticles have been said to be potentially unsafe for the biological system (Vishwakarma, Samal, & N.Manoharan, 2010). Owing to their small size, these particles can gain entry into the body easily through the skin, mucosal membranes of nose or lungs through inhalation. Their catalytic properties are likely to produce dangerous reactive radicals such as hyper-reactive oxygen with much toxic effects.

These reactive radicals have been linked to chronic diseases such as cancer. Once inside the body, nanoparticles may reach the brain or liver. This is because nanoparticles are able to cross the blood-brain barrier. Their effects on these organs are yet to be established. The nature of their toxicity remains a speculation, but the disruption in the body chemistry cannot be ignored.

The Royal Society of UK’s National Science Academy has reported that nanotube can cause lung fibrosis when inhaled in large amount over long periods (Vishwakarma et al., 2010). Early research has also shown that some types of nanoparticles could cause lung damage in rats (Vishwakarma et al., 2010).

Possible environmental effects of nanoparticles have also been documented. Because they are easily airborne, and adhesive, it is claimed nanoparticles may enter the food chain with profound undesirable changes on the ecosystem.

Currently, there are no standard techniques for assessing nanocompounds hazards. This, together with the unique features of nanomaterials – large surface area, multi forms, makes risk assessment difficult (Williams, Kulinowski, White, & Louis, 2010). Quality control for nanomaterials manufacturing, terminology as well as nomenclature standards are also lacking.

Additionally, it is alarming that currently there is no data on potential hazards, dose-response relationships and exposure levels of nanomaterials used in numerous applications (Musee, Brent, & Asthton, 2010). It is also worth stating that much of current funding on nanotechnology is directed toward potentially viable commercial projects while little is channeled towards risk assessment initiatives (Musee et al., 2010). This needs to be reversed.

Nanotechnology has the potential to revolutionize our lives. This is because it presents almost unlimited potential to make remarkable changes in virtually all fields ranging from medicine, computer technology, construction, environmental remediation, food industry, to new energy sources.

Despite presenting many potential benefits in many areas, nanotechnology of today is still in its infancy as just a few projects have been commercialized. Many are yet to undergo full lifecycle assessment. The number of nanotechnology innovations continues to rise. However, the same cannot be said of research about their potential effects on environment and biological systems.

As the world readily adapts to this new technology wave, concomitant effort should be directed to the understanding of their possible impacts. This is essential to ensure that nanomaterials do not become the new hazard of 21 st century. The long-long term sustainability of this new technology may depend on the establishment of its risks.

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Halicioglu, FH (2009). The potential benefits of nanotechnology innovative solutions in the construction sector . Web.

Karn, B., Kuiken, T., & Otto, M. (2009). Nanotechnology and in situ remediation: A review of the benefits and potential risks. Environmental Health Perspectives, 117 , 1823-1831.

Misra, R., Acharya, S., & Sahoo, S. K. (2010). Cancer nanotechnology: Application of nanotechnology in cancer therapy. Drug Discovery Today, 15 (19), 843-856.

Musee, N., C.Brent, A., & J.Ashton, P. (2010). South African research agenda to investigate the potential enviromental,health and safety risks of nanotechnology. South African Journal of Science, 106 (3/4), 6 pages.

Partyka, J., & Mazur, M. (2012). Prospects for the appliication of Nanotechnology. Journal of Nano-Electronics Physics, 4 (1).

Robinson, R. (2010). Application of nanotechnology in green building practises . Web.

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Silva, G. A. (2010). Nanotechnology applications and approached for neuroregeneration and drug delivery to the central nervous system. Annals of New York Academy of Science, 1199 , 221-230.

Solomon, M., & D’Souza, G. G. (2011). Recent progress in the therapeutic applications of nanotechnology. Current Opinion in Pediatrics, 23 , 215-220.

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Srinivas, P. R., Philbert, M., Q.Vu, T., Huang, Q., Kokini, J. L., Saos, E., et al. (2010). Nanotechnology research: Applications in nutritional sciences. Journal of Nutrition, 140 (1), 119-124.

Vaddiraju, S., Tomazos, I., Burgess, D. J., Jain, F. C., & Papadimitrakopoulos, F. (2010). Emerging synergy between nanotechnology and implantable biosensors. Biosens Bioelectron, 25 (7), 1553-1565.

Vishwakarma, V., Samal, S. S., & N.Manoharan. (2010). Safety and risk associated with nanoparticles. J or Mineral & Material Characteristics & Engineering, 9 (5), 455-459.

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Williams, R. A., Kulinowski, K. M., White, R., & Louis, G. (2010). Risk characterization for nanotechnology. Risk Analysis, 30 (1), 144-155.

Yimin, Li (2011). Nano scale advances in catalysis and energy applications . Web.

Zhao, J (2009). Turning to nanotechnology for pollution control: Applications of nanoparticles . Web.

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