Unusual uses for nanotechnology

Nanotechnology

“Nanotechnology is the manipulation of matter on an atomic, subatomic or supramolecular scale. The word ‘nano’ in nanotechnology means very small or minute.”

Despite its out-of-this-world background, nanotechnology can be extremely useful to the everyday Joe (or Jill) on the street. Here’s how.

Quicker phone charging

How frustrating is it that in this day and age we still struggle with smartphones that have batteries that don’t last long and take too long to charge?

Scientists from Ramat Gan in Israel are now using nanotechnology to stamp out slow recharge frustration. They took notice of a study by researchers at the University of Tel Aviv which was conducted to discover a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Through this project it was found that the peptide molecules in the brain that cause Alzheimer’s disease by shortening neurons also have a very high capability for preserving electrical charges.

This revelation led to creation of a company called StoreDot that focuses on nanotechnology for use in consumer products. StoreDot developed a product called NanoDot, which harnesses the electrical charge-preserving properties of peptide molecules to improve the battery life of smartphones.

A prototype of this nanotechnology-powered battery was showcased at Microsoft’s ThinkNext event – and this technology charged a Samsung Galaxy S3 phone to 100% in less than a minute.

More efficient solar panels

Solar panels have a reputation as being expensive, fragile and inefficient. The conversion rate of solar panels from sunlight to energy is a mere 20%.

However, in recent initial trials scientists have bumped the conversion rates of solar panels up to 92% by simply applying nanotechnology. These new types of solar panels are made from rugged polyurethane and inset with tiny gold coils. These coils aid the solar panels in remaining active long after it becomes dark outside. This use of nanotechnology in solar panels may one day even power our cars, homes, electronic devices and more.

Self-cleaning clothes

Doing laundry can potentially become a thing of the past! The premise behind self-cleaning clothes is that they mimic how water simply slides off leaves when it rains. One can even liken it to the idiom “water off a duck’s back”.

A company called NeverWet has created a superhydrophobic (which means super difficult to get wet) aerosol coating comprising a base coat and topcoat through the magic of nanotechnology. It can be applied to surfaces such as clothing, wood, metal and plastic to repel any liquids. When dirt or dust sits on a surface treated with NeverWet’s product (which is capable of covering 10–15 square feet), it will simply roll right off. Any residue that remains can simply be rinsed off with water.

You can watch a fascinating video of the product in action here, where they even spray an iPhone and then dunk it in water. It emerges still fully functioning.

Your body becomes your doctor

When we get ill the main way to get better is to take medicine either orally or intravenously. Treating serious diseases like cancer, however, can become extremely expensive and overwhelming to keep up ¬– and there are often negative side-effects to deal with.

Scientists have been researching ways to programme sick people’s own cells to turn their bodies into drug factories by constantly secreting gene-coded medicines within the body itself. These cells are altered to receive new genetic information, and this information is then delivered via nano-sized capsules injected into the body.

A breakthrough like this would make medicines that are currently unfeasible due to instability or production and distribution challenges easily accessible to the very ill. This would also make it much easier and less expensive to treat cardiovascular disease, cancers and infectious diseases. However, it has not yet been tested on a human patient, so will still be quite a while before it becomes a reality for the public.