The term nanotechnology is the design and manufacture of materials, devices, and systems at the nanoscale, that is, at the atomic and molecular level. Put simply, nanotechnology is the study of manipulating tiny particles at the atomic and molecular level. This scientific field has been gaining attention in recent years for its potential to revolutionize industry and medicine. While this technology is still nascent with many challenges, the promise and perils of nanotechnology is the focus of the contemporary discussion.

Nano vs Macro

At the nanoscale, particles behave different than they do at the macroscopic scale, exhibiting unique properties and capabilities that can be utilized to design and synthesize materials and devices with never-seen capabilities. Manipulating particles at the nanometer scale has opened up new possibilities for applications in various fields. But that’s not all. The miniaturization of components makes nanotechnology a cost-effective alternative to conventional fabricated materials and designs, while not compromising its efficiency or quality.

A New Way of Doing Things

Nanotechnology has the potential to disrupt and revolutionize traditional methods of production and manufacturing in the industrial sector. Graphene-based nanomaterials, for instance, are stronger and lighter than conventional steel, enabling lighter and less fuel-consuming mass transportation. Nanomaterials are being used to develop advanced, self-cleaning, water and odor-proof textiles. Carbon nanotubes are being used to create integrated circuits significantly more powerful and energy-efficient than their silicon-based counterparts.

Life-Altering Capabilities in Medicine

The ability to manipulate particles at the atomic scale has been also increasingly applied to develop advanced medical therapies. Nanoparticles have been studied to transport medicine directly to the target location, reducing the amount of drug administered, increasing efficacy, and reducing related side effects. On the genomic side, artificial nucleic acid molecules (AONs) or aptamer-siRNA constructs could play a role in gene editing. Representing just a few examples of possibilities enabled by the power of nanotechnology when it comes to medicine and biomolecules.

The Challenges and Controversies Around Nanotechnology

While the promise and potential of nanotechnology is undeniable, many challenges prevent this technology from becoming mainstream. One of the biggest challenges is the expensive nature of nanoscale production, far exceeding the price of traditional production. Standardization of nanomaterials and processes is another obstacle, making it difficult to replicate and scale nanotechnology products.

On the environmental side, although much of the concerns around this technology are still largely theoretical, the potential impact of nanomaterials in the environment represents an important challenge. As these particles are often insoluble and highly persistent, they can cause bioaccumulation issues and affect the global food chain.

Looking Ahead

Despite environmental and economic challenges, the benefits of this technology make such obstacles worth overcoming in order to realize the potential of nanomaterials. Government and private investments have been made to address the challenges noted above as well as conducting deeper research. This research serves to better understand the state of nanotechnology, current applications and potential downstream effects, and to establish government guidelines for its safe and responsible use.

Nanotechnology is a promising field with life-altering potential for both industry and medicine. Its capabilities to create miniaturized components and manipulate particles at the atomic and molecular level opens the door to revolutionary new medical therapies, manufacturing practices and materials, and new products with never-seen capabilities. With an estimated value of $747 billion in 2020 and projected to experience 8.2% yearly growth until 2027, responsibility and awareness of the challenges and controversies of this technology are essential. With research and investments, these challenges can be overcome while we look forward to what this technology has in store for us.