Nanotechnology isn’t a new concept. As noted by News Medical, human notions of nanoscale technologies have existed for centuries, but over the last few decades rapid technological advancements have empowered nanotech solutions in manufacturing and development. The caveat? Human-centric solutions have been more difficult to deliver.
Now, alternative energy sources and antiviral compounds are in development as the evolution of nanotechnology picks up speed. What’s next for nanoscale solutions?
Viruses are stubborn. While pharmaceuticals exist to block specific viral protein bindings, they’re limited. The emergence of drug-resistant viral strains is of critical concern, since these new strains are often more potent and resilient. Because of that, they require larger doses of medication, potentially causing adverse side effects.
Some work on anti-viral nanocompounds has already been done, using rigid gold and silver nanoparticles to mimic heparan sulfate (HS) proteoglycans used as binding points for many viral variations. According to Phys.org, new research from the Potsdamn Institute of Biochemistry and Biology and the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science, along with work from the Institute of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the Center for Infection Medicine (both of Freie Universitat), has led to the development of flexible antiviral nanotech compounds which “can effectively and permanently bind and shield viruses, thus preventing infections.” Initial data shows inhibitory effects of up to 90 percent.
Humans have a fascination with color. From fashion to safety to emotional well-being, color impacts the human condition. Sadly, though, traditional colors fade. Here’s why: Pigments and dyes block certain wavelengths of light, in turn producing specific colors. But over time — and under exposure to sunlight — these pigments decay and fade.
Naturally occurring colors in beetles and butterflies, however, are produced by slit-covered, nanoscale pillars. Varying slit widths produce destructive light interference which in turn creates long-lasting, fade-resistant color, according to Phys.org. As noted by Nanowerk, a team from the University of Hamburg, the ITMO-University in St. Petersberg and the Helmholtz-Center Geesthacht have developed a “photonic glass” that uses 200-nanometer hollow spheres, which “produce a blue color much closer to the perimeter of the chromaticity diagram,” solving previous problems with weakly saturated colors produced by homogenously filled sphere solutions.
Current transistor technology requires substantial power for operation. Another evolution of nanotechnology focuses on the development of all-carbon nanotube transistor radios capable of high-speed transmissions that require just one-thousandth the power of existing solutions.
According to Nanotechnology Now, the technology, developed as a joint venture between between Northrop Grumman and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, uses “thousands of perfectly aligned, single-walled carbon nanotubes as a type of semiconductor thin film.” Both proof-of-concept and power considerations are important: This is the first radio prototype that leverages carbon nanotubes for all active and vital components, and it could potentially increase battery life seven-fold compared to current transistor technology.
Nano-driven alternative energy sources are also in development. Power Technology reported that researchers from Manchester Metropolitan University in the United Kingdom are working nanoscale, screen-printed, graphene-like electrodes that are embedded in carbon-based ink. Used in electrolysers, these electrodes separate water into its component parts — hydrogen and oxygen — and store the hydrogen for later use.
The big advantage here? Not only are these electrodes environmentally-friendly, they don’t require consumer demand to make economic sense. Hydrogen can be captured and stored as a gas with no deterioration or loss, then used on demand in a fuel cell. Potential use cases include remote communities that currently import expensive fossil fuels, and power-intensive military applications.
Nano Tech, Big Impact
The evolution of nanotechnology is now delivering human-centric value. From flexible antiviral compounds to non-fading colors, low-power transistors and renewable energy sources, thinking small delivers big impact.
Nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, machine learning and autonomous systems are areas of exciting innovation. Northrop Grumman has job openings working on projects with these (and other) intriguing elements.