Nanotechnology: Advantages, Disadvantages and Nano-pollutants?

by: Angeles, Ereñeta, Jeng, Litam, Montenegro, Segui, Tuason

Without first looking at textbook definitions, the term nanotechnology can be deduced by separating the prefix nano, which in the metric system refers to the factor 10-9 (something extremely small), from technology, which can refer to machines, electricity, application of science in life, etc. Combining these two, the meaning of nanotechnology can be reasoned literally as an extremely small scaled machine or product of a scientific process.

While that definition seems adequate, Dr. Ralph Merkle makes an analogy that manufacturing methods of today are very crude at the molecular level that it is like trying to make something out of Lego blocks. However, instead of using bare hands the constructor is wearing boxing gloves. For him, piles and heaps can be tried to be made out of the Lego blocks, but exact figures would be impossible to create due to the gloves. He then says that with nanotechnology, it is like removing the gloves and being able to make the exact figures wanted because it’s possible to simply snap the Lego together quickly and efficiently. In a sense, nanotechnology is delving into the basic molecular structure of anything and arranging it in the necessary form. There are definitely pros and cons to using it, but nanotechnology generally allows for the reconstruction and reengineering of nano-sized structures to create something which should benefit society.

Image 1. Some applications involving nanotechnology pursued by the Philippines

Image 1. Some applications involving nanotechnology pursued by the Philippines

Nanotechnology provides plenty of advantages in fields where it is applied. Environmentally, it is able to help expedite the cleaning up process through developments such as that of nanofabric “paper towels”, which absorb 20 times its weight in oil, and filters in airplane cabins which are better able to remove odors. In agriculture, nanotechnology-enabled sensors are being advanced in order to be able to pinpoint harmful agents present in the air and soil. This would help farmers find the best possible places to grow crops as well as be aware of the reasons for poorly grown produces. Nanotechnologies have also been applied in cosmetic and beauty products through enhancing antioxidant and anti-microbial properties, and windows and other surfaces have been modified in order to be water-proof, anti-reflective, scratch-proof and electrically conducive. Overall, nanotechnology is  aimed at helping advance the work and tools needed to provide humans with a better life.

Yet despite the benefits nanotechnologies present, disadvantages inevitably follow. Some notable disadvantages are: 1. Ethical concerns due to the potential to engineer humans to become hyper-intelligent and much stronger, leading to a discrepancy in status because of a “lower class” of humans; 2. The greater chances for unemployment to rise in the farming and manufacturing industries because of the lesser need for human labour with more efficient technology; 3. The production of atomic weapons posing as a threat to society.

Aside from those mentioned, one imminent disadvantage which easily goes unnoticed yet should not be ignored is the factor of nano-pollutants. Nano-pollutants are particles small enough to enter one’s lungs and be absorbed by the skin which becomes very dangerous not only to one’s health, but to the general environment. These nanosized contaminants cause instabilities and disorders in the environment, the same way they do to one’s body. Volcanoes and the ocean often release nanoparticles when they release ash or have waves which burst violently, respectively, and this amount of nanoparticles is not what is causing harm to the world. Rather, the man-made nano-pollutants are the ones people should be wary of. By-products from the manufacturing of nanotechnologies are where the miniscule pollutants often come from, and the fact that these are placed in landfills allows more exposure to soil and air. Nano-pollution from car exhausts and construction sites are also easily soaked up by the air, and inhaling a high amount of nano-pollution is quite toxic to both humans and other animals, thus if left unresolved could lead to a great problem in our ecosystem.

In the end, it is all a matter of being aware of the things produced in our society. Although nanotechnologies create nano-waste, they are also able to aid in reducing pollution across the globe through innovating more efficient technologies. Nanotechnologies definitely carry the hope of a better and brighter future but it is necessary not to look past negative produces as well. Nano-pollutants could be reduced through the communication between scientists because it is those who specialize in a subject that would know how to deal with it. Manufacturers could carefully identify and handle their products, but it is the knowledge and discoveries of scientists which would teach the world how to properly dispose of specific types of pollutants in the best possible manner. The very small will undeniably bring very big things, and hopefully those things will be for the best.

References:

“Advantages and Disadvantages of Nanotechnology.” Introduction to Nanotechnology. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Jan. 2014. <http://nanogloss.com/nanotechnology/advantages-and-disadvantages-of-nanotechnology/>.

“Benefits and Applications.” Benefits and Applications | Nano. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Jan. 2014. <http://www.nano.gov/you/nanotechnology-benefits>.

“Disadvantages of Nanotechnology.” Nanotechnology. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Jan. 2014. <http://www.nanocrat.com/Disadvantages-of-Nanotechnology.html>.

“DOST Outlines Nanotechnology Roadmap.” PCIEERD. PCIEERD-DOST, n.d. Web. 17 Jan. 2014. <http://www.pcieerd.dost.gov.ph/index.php/news/earlier-press-releases/106-dost-outlines-nanotechnology-roadmap>.

Merkle, Ralph. “Nanotechnology.” Nanotechnology. Zyvex, n.d. Web. 17 Jan. 2014.

Soutter, Will. “Nanopollution: Hype or Health Risk?” AZoNano.com. AZoM.com Pty. Ltd, 27 Nov. 2012. Web. 18 Jan. 2014. <http://www.azonano.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=3138>.

“The Potential Disadvantages of Nanotechnology.” Introduction to Nanotechnology RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Jan. 2014. <http://nanogloss.com/nanotechnology/the-potential-disadvantages-of-nanotechnology/>.

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One thought on “Nanotechnology: Advantages, Disadvantages and Nano-pollutants?

  1. The disadvantages listed are not unique to nanotechnology. The atom has been around as early as WWII!
    Nanopollutants from car exhaust and construction sites have been around way before nanotechnology was actually developed! As long as we’ve been putting up buildings (say the pyramids) and riding cars (say the Ford Model T). This type of pollution may be nanosized but they are not produced by nanotechnology. So perhaps the question to ask is how nanotechnology can be used to help address these issues.

    -RAM

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