Nanotechnology, loosely described as the science of small, “is not about miniaturization; it’s the exploitation of new phenomena” as Ateneo de Manila University’s Dr. Fabian Dayrit explains.
Nanotechnology enables scientists to look into the molecular or atomic level of matter and its possible uses or applications never previously explored or predicted. Imagine splitting a hair strand vertically into 80,000 pieces- that is the size of a nanometer. At such tiny scale, according to Dayrit, matter has certain properties and functions that can not be found or used in larger dimensions.
With an elbow room of about one to 100 nanometers, scientists can actually design and control things at such a minute size and come up with extraordinary products.
Now nanotechnology has aided the production of lighter tennis rackets with nanotubes, more durable tennis balls with nanoparticles, straight-flying golf balls, water-repelling pants, and nano socks that don’t stink.
There are plenty of nanotechnology products that hardly make conversation pieces. The DVD, for one, stores massive information contained in a film feature – sounds, movements, colors, graphics, etc – in several bumps, each at 320 nanometers wide, still far thinner than a hair strand.
The cellular phone that used to be so humungous has shrunk to just a few millimeters thick. Flash drives, too, used to be fashionable at 256 kilobytes but now can hold 16 gigabytes of data within the same physical size. In just a few seasons, small sized flash drives and mp4 players with terabytes capacity (1,024 gigabytes = 1 terabyte) will be standard accessories.
Thanks to nanotechnology, society now has these conveniences.
Nanotechnology in the Philippines
“We’re still in the first and second stage in nanotechnology development,” says Dr. Dayrit, dean of Ateneo’s School of Science and Engineering, who also heads the technical team that prepared the roadmap for the country’s nanotechnology program to be coordinated by the Department of Science and Technology’s Philippine Council for Advanced Science and Technology Research and Development.
“First stage” refers to the development of first generation products at nano dimensions and with passive properties such as aerosols, coatings, nanoparticles, polymers, and ceramics, among others. “Second stage” refers to evolution into products with quantum properties and molecular behavior such as biodevices, targeted drugs, amplifiers, 3D transistors, and others.
Meanwhile, higher levels of nanotechnology entail the development of systems of nanodevices, such as those used in robotics, and molecular machines and manufacturing.
Based on the roadmap, application of nanotechnology in the country will focus on ICT and semiconductors, energy, agriculture and food, medicine, and the environment.
For ICT, nanotechnology will focus on development of products that can improve functionality, speed, computing power, integrability, portability, and power efficiency.
For energy, Dr. Dayrit’s team will come up with nanostructured solar energy devices such as third-generation photovoltaic cell or solar cell, which directly converts sunlight into electricity. Food packaging, nanosensors, plant and animal breeding, and smart field systems will be the priorities in the food and agriculture field.
In medicine, nanotechnology will focus on nanodiagnostics. For environment, focus will be on nanofilters for water purification, environmental remediation, environmental sensors, and green materials.
To raise awareness on and appreciation for nanotechnology, Dr. Dayrit’s team recommends the introduction of nanotechnology in all science and engineering courses, provision of basic equipment to image and characterize nanostructures in major universities, and continued interdisciplinary interaction among science and engineering departments in nanotechnology.
Where to, nano?
Kicking off nanotechnology development in the country are Dayrit’s two flagship projects with initial P50 million fund from PCASTRD. One project focuses on nanostructured solar energy devices while the other concentrates on nanosensors in food and agriculture. In the pipeline is nanotechnology for environment and water purification.
“DOST is looking at a budget of P2.5 billion for the next 10 years, starting this year,” Dayrit said. He also told that nanotechnology projects and initiatives will involve groups of scientists and engineers from specific fields.
In 2006, worldwide investment for nanotechnology R&D totaled $12.4 billion, while nanotechnology was integrated in over $50 billion manufactured goods. Lux Research estimates that by 2014, some $2.6 trillion in manufactured goods will integrate nanotechnology.
Whoever said that big things come in small packages might have nanotechnology in mind.