The Dark Side of Nano-Technology

Thursday, November 26, 2009 |

Nano Technology has become the buzz word today for every science & technology discipline , be it applied physics, materials science, colliodal science, device physics & even mechnical & electrical engineering. So one might wonder, whats so special about playing around with atoms & molecules. Well here are some wonders that moleclules exhibit at the Nano Scale
# Copper which is opaque becomes transparent.
# Platinum which is inert materials acts as a catalyst (thats added it to every other reaction)
# Stable materials like aluminium turn combustible (Who could have thought of that)
# Solids turn into liquids at room temperature (like gold)
# Silicon which is an insulator becomes a conductor (& hence used in our computer chips)

This Technology looks extremely promising, so much that fields of structural & mechanical engineering, electrical engineering & even medicine would be completely revolutionized with the advancement in Nano. We would be able to get waterproof, tear resistant cloth fibre, stronger & lighter tennis rackets, bike parts, golf clubs. New therapies can be developed which might be useful in treating illnesse like cancer. All of this is just the tip of the iceberg. We can only try to imagine what new application might crop up in future. All said & done, Nano Technology, just like any other modern day discovery, has its own pitfalls. So What makes these seemingly harmless particles dangerous? Its nothing but their Size !

The Smaller the particle, greater is its surface area to volume ratio, & higher is its chemical reactivity & biology activity. The greater chemical reactivity of nano materials results in increased production of reactive oxygen species (ROS), including free radicals. ROS & free radical production is one of the primary mechanisms of Nano particles toxicity. The Extremely Small size of Nano Materials also means that they are much more readily taken up by the human body than larger sized particles. Nano materials are able to cross biological membranes & access cells, tissuses & organs that larger particles caanot.

Beyond the toxicity risks to human health & the environment, Nano Technology poses broader social challenges. Some suggest that nano technology will build incremently, as did the 18-19th century industrial Revolution, until it gathers pace to drive a Nano technological revolution(the Nano's Age) that will radically reshape our economies, labour markets, social Structures, Civil liberties, our relationship with the natural world & even what we understand to be human. This could have potential to change the face of the earth completely.

Some suggest that Nano Technology could amplify problems like socio-economic inequality through an inevitable nano-divide (the gap b/w those who control the new Nano Technologies & those whose products, services or labour are displaced by them). Sceptics suggest the possibilty that Nano Technology has the potential to destablise international relations through a nano arms race leading to a scenario similar to the one before the First World War & the Cold War.

Despite the existence of a multi billion dollar market, no regulations anywhere in the world account for the changed character of materials at the nanoscale, which makes things difficult to monitor & predict as well.

NANO: The saviour or the annihilator, only the future knows......

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