Saving Society With Nanotechnology

Understanding the implications of nanosensors & nanofabrication in today’s society.

According to the World Health Organization, up to 70% of people with epilepsy could live seizure-free lives if properly diagnosed and treated.

Previously, health professionals struggled to properly diagnose epilepsy because of its striking similarities to panic attacks, migraines, and syncope (fainting).

However, researchers from the Institute for Basic Science in South Korea and Zhejiang University in China invented a method of accurately detecting epileptic seizures using nanosensors. By observing the seizure activity in a brain, health professionals could provide better diagnoses and treatment for patients — even lessening the need for surgery.

Measured epileptic brain activity from a mouse specimen. The data is broken into 3 sections (hippocampus, amygdala, and cortex), representing the 3 regions of the brain being monitored during the seizure.

Nanosensors

Nanosensors can be defined as mechanisms used to collect data from objects at the nanoscale, which approximately ranges from 1 to 100 nanometres.

To put that in perspective, the average tennis ball measures 6.54 cm. However, at the nanoscale, a tennis ball would measure 65 400 000 nm.

Different objects being measured on the nanoscale.

While many nanosensors have at least one dimension being smaller than 100 nm, some nanosensors are made to be much larger. The larger nanosensors are constructed with distinctive nanomaterials that allow it to detect and collect quantitative data at the nanoscale.

Importance

From collecting data more efficiently to solving problems, nanosensors have revolutionized many of our industries.

Examples of this include:

  • Aerospace Industry - NASA created and successfully tested a nanosensor that could detect the amount of gas buildup in a spacecraft. By doing so, it could alert the crew about a harmful amount of gas buildup in their air supply.
  • Agricultural Industry - MIT engineers designed a nanosensor that could monitor plants in order to determine when they are experiencing water shortages. Besides being used for neglected houseplants, farmers could be more equipped to take care of their crops (especially during droughts).
Design layout of the nanosensor used to detect water shortages in plants.

Furthermore, nanosensors have opened even more possibilities for humans to explore. In the aerospace industry, nanosensors could be used as safety mechanisms in order to ensure a smoother flight. In terms of the agricultural industry, nanosensors could measure the effects of climate change on various crops to create efficient solutions.

Mechanics

While the basis of a nanosensor is to detect/monitor objects at the nanoscale, there are specific types of nanosensors that focus on monitoring certain data.

Nanosensors can commonly be split into four categories:

  • Physical Nanosensors - measuring data related to hyperphysics (i.e. pressure)
  • Chemical Nanosensors - measuring chemical changes, chemical properties, and molecular compositions
  • Biological Nanosensors- measuring DNA interactions and data related to bodily plant and animal functions (i.e. enzymes)
  • Optical Nanosensors - measuring on the intracellular (within a cell) level

Still, all nanosensors measure through the electrical charges in the nanomaterials. As well, nanosensors are designed to essentially measure individual molecules.

Electrical charges in an object. The plus sign represents positive charges, whilst the negative sign represents negative charges.

Nanofabrication

According to ScienceDirect, nanofabrication is the process of “downscaling size and components and functional elements” and is used to construct nanosensors.

This process can be broken down into three main methods:

  • Top-Down Lithography - sculpting larger blocks until it reaches the desired shape.
  • Bottom-Up Fabrication - using molecules in order to individually construct it into the desired shape.
  • Self-Assembled Nanostructures - detected biochemicals combined with biomolecules to become electrical signals that are used to construct the desired shape.
Showing all three methods of nanofabrication that produce nanosensors.

Issues with Nanofabrication

While nanofabrication is key to the production of nanosensors, there are some downsides that need to be taken into consideration.

Some of these include:

  • Expenses - Since nanosensors are considered “new technology”, the production costs are fairly high. If nanosensors were produced in a large amount, that would lessen the overall production cost. However, nanosensors on the market are not in demand, so producing in large amounts could lead to profit loss.
Machinery used in the production of nanosensors, which contribute the overall expenses.
  • Production - With the top-down lithography, defects and imperfections are more likely to come up. It takes much longer to produce a large amount of nanosensors with this method.
  • Contamination Control - During the production process, some of the nanosensors can get contaminated. If that happens, it could severely alter the nanosensor’s ability to accurately collect data.

Solutions to Nanofabrication

After having the opportunity to research nanofabrication, I came up with a few solutions.

  • Recently, another method of nanofabrication known as the “third way” has sparked interest in the nanotechnology industry. While it is still a theory, the idea is to create an automatic assembly line that would manufacture the nanosensors. With the recent developments in the AI industry (Robotic Surgeons), I believe that AI could be implemented into the assembly line to make production more efficient.
  • In order to have better contamination control, I would suggest applying isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) and thermal grease to the individual nanosensors. These materials are usually used to disinfect CPU chips, which have similar properties to nanosensors.
  • The public should be more educated on nanotechnology as it seems to be a key to society’s future. In schools, I would suggest implementing nanotechnology as a required unit for Computer Studies. This would allow children to be more exposed to such advanced technology.
David Kellermann is a professor at the School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering at the University of New South Wales who developed a “Question Robot” in order to have students have a more hands-on learning experience with AI.

Conclusion

From opening more possibilities in various industries to ensuring accurate data, nanosensors will play a large role in society’s future. Even in present time with the global pandemic (Covid-19), nanosensors are being used to provide health professionals with more effective tools to combat the disease.

When researching this field, I found that there are still multiple theories relating to nanosensors. In order to continue improving the world’s quality of life, nanotechnology should be something that many are educated on. If more people were to be educated on this issue, it could lead to more research being available. From there, society will be more equipped to find solutions to problems that plague the world.

Further Information

Here are a few resources that provide more in-depth explanations relating to nanosensors and nanofabrication:

https://www.aeresearch.net/nano-sensors-market-131268 - An in-depth analysis of the nanosensor market and what to expect in the the future

Basic information on nanotechnology
An interesting perspective on how nanosensors can be applied to everyday scenarios.
How Iron Man’s suit from Avengers: Infinity War use nanotechnology.

biology & neuroscience