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The fascinating field of nanotechnology

T. Muralidharan
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high-end research: Researchers have developed the world's smallest transistor built with just seven atoms in a single silicon crystal and measuring four nanometres in length. Photo: AFP
high-end research: Researchers have developed the world's smallest transistor built with just seven atoms in a single silicon crystal and measuring four nanometres in length. Photo: AFP

Scientists have dubbed the 21st century to be the era of nanotechnology. They portend that it will impact lives of humans in every imaginable area right from medicine to food packaging. The potential is practically unlimited. Some scientists believe that the technology would be used to convert sunlight into power, deliver a drug to a malignant cell without going through the whole human system, and to produce protective clothing that can block harmful effects of radiation.

There has been considerable progress in developing nanomaterials for use in various industries. Scientists have developed nanoparticles, which can be used in pesticides to kill crop-destroying pests but will leave the soil and environment chemical-free. The paper and pulp industry is using nanotechnology to create ultra thin films and fibres.

The importance of nanotechnology has been widely understood by all counties. Even countries such as Russia and Kazakhstan are making substantial investment in the area. The city of Tomsk has set up an exclusive 100-acre innovation park, as a Special Economic Zone for Russian and foreign companies to set up nanotechnology research centres and labs. Iran will be hosting the third International Nanotechnology Festival from October 25 to 29.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development is involved in one of the most comprehensive nanomaterial research programmes that are being carried out by its Working Party on Manufactured Nanomaterials.

Nanotechnology has spurred scientific research like never before. India too is not lagging behind in this aspect.

Its earnest efforts began almost two decades ago. Progress has been slow though. But as our scientific organisations gained traction in research, they have also made inroads into the study and application of nanotechnology for use in the fields of medicine, agriculture, science and industry.

In India, the nanoscience and technology undertaking has primarily been a government-led initiative. The Department of Science and Technology established the Nanoscience and Technology Mission for coordinating all research activities by various scientific organisations, laboratories and universities.

The government has set up several Centres of Excellence for nanotechnology-based R&D. The S.N. Bose National Centre for Basic Sciences, Association for the Cultivation of Science, the Indian Institute of Science, Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research and IIT Kanpur, each host a Unit of Nanoscience as well as a Centre for Nanotechnology.

These CoEs as well as the IITs in Mumbai, Chennai and Delhi are considered the leading institutes for nanoscience and technology research. India has many scientists who have done pioneering research in this field. Some of our best brains also lead the research programmes at world-renowned organisations. IBM's nanotechnology research is led by Dr. Kota Murali. Dr. Vinod Veedu is a senior nanotechnology engineer at Oceanit, a leading engineering, R&D company in Hawaii, U.S.

Nanotechnology is an interdisciplinary subject, which essentially combines physics, chemistry, biotechnology, engineering, pharma, IT, medicine, textile, automobiles and many other science areas. So, one has to have a good understanding of the core area as well some of the other disciplines to be able to conduct research in nanotechnology.

But students who have genuine interest can also take up short-term courses offered by The Nano Science and Technology Consortium. It offers several basic and industry-relevant courses. Visit www.nstc.in/Programs/default.aspx for details.

The Indian Society of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology will be holding its annual conference ‘Nanotech India 2010' this year in Kochi from November19 to 21. Students interested in this fascinating and evolving technology should try to attend some sessions to get insights into the future scope and possibilities in this area. Visit www.nanotechindia.in for details.

T. Muralidharan


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