Nanoscience can be defined as the study of materials and all matter at a level measured in nanometres. In prosaic words, we can say nanoscience deals with the scientific study of objects with size 1- 100 nm ranges in at least one dimension.
Nanoscience is a horizontal-integrating interdisciplinary science that cuts across all sciences and engineering disciplines. Nanoscience integrates many facets of science such as colloidal chemistry, solid state physics, electronics, engineering, structural biology, cell and molecular biology and surface science. In our current generation, nanoscience has enormous applications to the development of our nation.
Now, before we proceed I like to talk about the other side of nanoscience; nanotechnology. Nanotechnology as the names suggest, is the application of the insight and knowledge obtained from nanoscience, to create objects and gadgets of practical application that are useful to the need of man. As a very critical emerging field of science, it has a promising future as it was predicted by the Physicist Richard Feynman in the year 1959. In Ghana, nanoscience is not so far from us. The study of electronics, electrical engineering, crystallographic chemistry, solid state physics and other scientific disciplines are all in pursuit to unveil the usefulness and the effectiveness of the use of materials in their nano state.
A strand of hair is 100,000 times thicker than a nanometer
In a nut shell, nanoscience holds in its hands the solution to the many sophisticated and myriad plights we have here in Ghana. And I believe this is a great platform for the youth and other academicians to air their propositions on how they think nanoscience can be applied to aid the development of our nation. Nanoscience has a lot of applications and cardinal among many will be the theme of this article.
To begin with, nanoscience has enormous applications in the field of agriculture. Since Ghana has been officially pronounced an agricultural country, nanoscience can play pivotal role in the development of agriculture. Nanoscience can be used to contribute directly to advancements in agriculture in a number of ways:
(1) Molecularly engineered biodegradable chemicals for nourishing plants and protecting against insects; – these chemicals will be at their nano meter level and have swift flexibility and also enormous merits that the former chemical being used never had. With the application of these chemicals to plants and insects, it will curtail the cases of plants dying and increase productivity.
(2) Genetic improvement for animals and plants – there is a facet of genetics called genetic engineering and the improvement of plants and animal will be toward that field. With the developed nanoparticles and materials, defective plants and animals can have their genetic material altered so they can function better. Certain genetic disorders that arise as a result of inherent genes that impede the proper functioning of the plants and animal can be removed to have good yields. We can also talk about the idea of selective breeding and recombinant DNA technology which will all have new and positive phases as the result of the influx of nanoscience.
(3) Delivery of genes and drugs to animals; nanoparticles will be very effective in delivery of gene and drugs to plants and animals. Due to the small size of the particles, they have increased surface to volume ratio, and this makes them special and very effective to move to the target organs and tissues to deliver the genes and drugs. Nanoparticles can also be targeted to affect defective genes that hinder the correct functioning of the animals. In addition, nano-array-based technologies for DNA testing, which, for example, will allow a scientist to know which genes are expressed in a plant when it is exposed to salt or drought stress, will throw more light on the idea of cross breeding and hybridisation, and even expedite the idea of recombinant DNA technology. With all these unprecedented changes, our agriculture sector will be made formidable and will strengthen our economy for development.
We can also talk about the sector of the economy that deals with industry and the manufacturing of products. Here, nanotechnology can be applied to fundamentally alter the way materials and devices will be produced in the future. The ability to synthesize nanoscale building blocks with precisely controlled size and composition and then to assemble them into larger structures with unique properties and functions will revolutionize materials and manufacturing. We will be able to develop material structures not previously observed in nature, beyond what classical chemistry can offer. Some of the benefits that nano structuring can bring include lighter, stronger, and programmable materials; reductions in life-cycle costs through lower failure rates; innovative devices based on new principles and architectures; and use of molecular/cluster manufacturing, which takes advantage of assembly at the nanoscale level for a given purpose. One incredible thing about the application of nano technology in this field is that, it can reduce human labour.
Under industrialisation, we can also talk about the molecular building blocks of life — proteins, nucleic acids, lipids, carbohydrates, and their non-biological mimics — are examples of materials that possess unique properties determined by their size, folding, and patterns at the nanoscale. Biosynthesis and bio processing offer fundamentally new ways to manufacture chemicals and pharmaceutical products. Integration of biological building blocks into synthetic materials and devices will allow the combination of biological functions with other desirable materials properties. Imitation of biological systems provides a major area of research in several disciplines. For example, the active area of bio-mimetic chemistry is based on this approach.
In the energy sector, nanotechnology has the potential to significantly impact energy efficiency, storage, and productions. Some useful applications of nano science in the field of industry include, increasing the efficiency of converting solar energy into useful forms. Thus nanoscience, can be applied to create nanostructured solar cells. Prototype solar panels in nanotechnology are more efficient than standard designs in converting sunlight to electricity, promising inexpensive solar power in the future. Nanostructured solar cells are already cheaper to manufacture and easier to install, since they can use print-like manufacturing processes and can be made in flexible rolls rather than discrete panels. Also nanoscience can be applied to create high efficiency fuel cells, including hydrogen storage in nanotubes. Nanostructured materials can be used to improve hydrogen membrane and storage materials and the catalysts needed to realize fuel cells for alternative transportation technologies at reduced cost. The plight of our incessant black out can also be curtailed by the application of nano solar sensor created generators. This machine will work on the principle where the nano particles will store most of the solar energy from the sun and unleashing it when the need arises. This will be a really great breakthrough for the energy and power crisis of Ghana.
How about a nanoparticle-reinforced polymeric material that can replace structural metallic components in automobiles. Widespread use of those nano composites could lead to a reduction of 1.5 billion litres of gasoline consumption over the life of one year’s production of vehicles, thereby reducing carbon dioxide emissions annually by more than 5 billion kilograms. We can also talk about Nano-bioengineering of enzymes which aims at converting cellulose into ethanol for fuel, from wood chips, corn stalks (not just the kernels, as today), unfertilized perennial grasses etc. We can also talk about, Nanoscience being applied in numerous new kinds of batteries that are less flammable, quicker-charging, more efficient, lighter weight, and that have a higher power density and hold electrical charge longer. One new lithium-ion battery type uses a common, nontoxic virus in an environmentally benign production process, helping to reduce environmental pollutants.
A vision of nanoscience: pt 2 – health & life will be up on 30th March