Nanotechnology and nanoscience relate to the management of individual atoms and molecules. Now that scientists have the tools that allow them to visualise matter on such a small scale, they are discovering various ways to purposely make materials at the nanoscale to take advantage of their enhanced properties such as higher strength, lighter weight, increased control of light spectrum, and greater chemical reactivity than their larger-scale counterparts. In layman’s terms, nanotechnology is ‘engineering at a very small scale’!
The utilisation of nanotechnology allows scientists to examine how the living world ‘works’ to find solutions to problems in the ‘non-living’ world. By examining works of nature, such as the way marine organisms build strength into the shells and how a nettle delivers its sting may help to engineer new lightweight, tough materials for cars and provide techniques for efficiently generating renewable energy respectively. With nanotechnology, new and innovative ways to provide the solutions to many long-standing medical, social and environmental issues are being created and this is attracting increasing amounts of public funding than any other area of technology.
“…nanotechnology has the potential to deliver important benefits such as reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions”
The fundamentals of nanotechnology are being rapidly explored with the intent to develop desired characteristics in apparel such as high tensile strength, unique surface structure and fire retardancy to name a few. Applications such as these are being used within leather industry, with nanotechnology being used to impart characteristics such as anti-odour to leather footwear, as part of the world of performance wear. This is particularly important as current chemical options are under increasing regulatory pressure.
Despite the fact that nanotechnology has the potential to deliver important benefits such as reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, there is a concern amongst some people that nanoscale particles may enter and accumulate in vital organs. This potentially harmful side effect has lead to people being uncertain about their application and there are growing concerns about their effect on the environment. There has been little research into how nanoscale particles may be distributed and deposited and this lack of data is what fuels the debate and concern regarding the use of nanotechnology.