It’s been a long time since I’ve featured any explanations of nanotechnology. Julie Deardorff in her July 10, 2012 article for the Chicago Tribune offers an excellent introduction to nanotechnology and the benefits and risks associated with it,
Improved sunscreens are just one of the many innovative uses of nanotechnology, which involves drastically shrinking and fundamentally changing the structure of chemical compounds. But products made with nanomaterials also raise largely unanswered safety questions — such as whether the particles that make them effective can be absorbed into the bloodstream and are toxic to living cells.
Less than two decades old, the nanotech industry is booming. Nanoparticles — measured in billionths of a meter — are already found in thousands of consumer products, including cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, anti-microbial infant toys, sports equipment, food packaging and electronics. In addition to producing transparent sunscreens, nanomaterials help make light and sturdy tennis rackets, clothes that don’t stain and stink-free socks.
The particles can alter how products look or function because matter behaves differently at the nanoscale, taking on unique and mysterious chemical and physical properties. Materials made of nanoparticles may be more conductive, stronger or more chemically reactive than those containing larger particles of the same compound.
If you would like more information and another perspective (Deardorff’s article is US-focussed), you can read the July 11, 2012 Nanowerk Spotlight article submitted by NanoTrust, Austrian Academy of Sciences (Note: I have removed footnotes),
Nanotechnology is often referred to as being a “key technology” of the 21st century, and the expectations for innovative products and new market potentials are high. The prediction is that novel products with new or improved functionality, or revolutionary developments in the field of medicine, will improve our lives in the future. Importantly, these technical innovations have also raised great hopes in the environmental sector.
Rising prices for raw materials and energy, coupled with the increasing environmental awareness of consumers, are responsible for a flood of products on the market that promise certain advantages for environmental and climate protection. Nanomaterials exhibit special physical and chemical properties that make them interesting for novel, environmentally friendly products.
Emphasis is often placed on the sustainable potential of nanotechnology. Nonetheless, this usually reflects unsubstantiated expectations7. Determining the actual effects of a product on the environment – both positive and negative – requires examining the entire life cycle from production of the raw material to disposal at the end of the life cycle. As a rule, the descriptions of environmental benefits fail to consider the amount of resources and energy consumed in producing the products.
While it’s not as friendly as Deardorff’s, this is a good companion piece as it offers a broader range of nanotechnology topics and issues and a healthy selection of resources. In addition, Nanotrust has a number of dossiers available for more nanotechnology reading.