Nanotechnology in Defense: Applications under Development
The Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies (ISN) is in the business of developing and taking advantage of nanotechnology to help soldiers survive in battle conditions. A nano battlesuit is being developed that could be as thin as spandex and contain health monitors and communications equipment. Nanomaterials can also provide strength that far surpasses currently available materials, providing bullet shielding that’s much more effective. These jumpsuit style outfits might even be able to react to and stop biological and chemical attacks. This protection and these devices would be integrated into one suit that would be more efficient and lightweight than current packs. The U.S. Army Natick Soldier Systems Center has published a white paper that discusses how nanotechnology may be used in the “Future Soldier Initiative”.
Researchers have worked on aircraft that swing their wings in close for high-speed flight and extend their wings to provide more lift for takeoff and landing. Unfortunately, the hinges that allow the wings to swing add weight, so researchers are developing materials that will need only an electrical voltage to change the shape of aircraft wings and other structures. NASA has developed a carbon nanotube-polymer composite that bends when a voltage is applied.
A Mission Adaptive Rotor program is focused on improving the performance of helicopter rotors. Rotors that can morph would last longer and offer improved performance. These improvements come in part from a reduction in rotor vibration. The improved performance involves an increase in the amount of weight that the helicopter can carry and an extension of its range.
Shape changing isn’t limited to the skies. The Transformer vehicle being developed by DARPA can travel on roads but is also capable of vertical take-off and landing. The body of the vehicle could morph to grow wings or pull them back in based on whether the vehicle is on land or aloft. As military personnel moves around in the TX, they could use the capability to fly to circumvent obstacles, go over rough terrain, and avoid landmines or ambush, while retaining the capability to drive on roads.
Nanotechnology in Cancer Treatment
The use of nanotechnology in cancer treatment offers some exciting possibilities, including the possibility of destroying cancer tumors with minimal damage to healthy tissue and organs, as well as the detection and elimination of cancer cells before they form tumors.
Most efforts to improve cancer treatment through nanotechnology are at the research or development stage. However the effort to make these treatments a reality is highly focused. For example, The Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer, established by the U.S. National Cancer Institute, is fostering innovation and collaboration among researchers to resolve some of the major challenges in the application of nanotechnology to cancer. In addition, there are many universities and companies worldwide working in this area. It is possible that these efforts will result in cancer becoming being nearly eliminated in a decade or so, in the same way, that vaccines nearly eliminated smallpox in the last century.
Nanoparticle Applications in Medicine
The use of polymeric micelle nanoparticles to deliver drugs to tumors. The use of polymer-coated iron oxide nanoparticles to break up clusters of bacteria, possibly allowing more effective treatment of chronic bacterial infections. The surface change of protein filled nanoparticles has been shown to affect the ability of the nanoparticle to stimulate immune responses. Researchers are thinking that these nanoparticles may be used in inhalable vaccines.
Researchers at Rice University have demonstrated that cerium oxide nanoparticles act as an antioxidant to remove oxygen free radicals that are present in a patient’s bloodstream following a traumatic injury. The nanoparticles absorb the oxygen free radicals and then release the oxygen in a less dangerous state, freeing up the nanoparticle to absorb more free radicals. Researchers are developing ways to use carbon nanoparticles called nanodiamonds in medical applications. For example nanodiamonds with protein molecules attached can be used to increase bone growth around dental or joint implants. Researchers are testing the use of chemotherapy drugs attached to nanodiamonds to treat brain tumors. Other researchers are testing the use of chemotherapy drugs attached to nanodiamonds to treat leukemia.
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Nanoparticle Applications in Manufacturing and Materials
Ceramic silicon carbide nanoparticles dispersed in magnesium produce a strong, lightweight material. A synthetic skin, which may be used in prosthetics, has been demonstrated with both self-healing capability and the ability to sense pressure. The material is a composite of nickel nanoparticles and a polymer. If the material is held together after a cut it seals together in about 30 minutes giving it a self-healing ability. Also, the electrical resistance of the material changes with pressure, giving it a sense ability like touch.
Silicate nanoparticles can be used to provide a barrier to gasses (for example oxygen), or moisture in a plastic film used for packaging. This could slow down the process of spoiling or drying out in food. Zinc oxide nanoparticles can be dispersed in industrial coatings to protect wood, plastic, and textiles from exposure to UV rays. Silicon dioxide crystalline nanoparticles can be used to fill gaps between carbon fibers, thereby strengthening tennis racquets. Silver nanoparticles in the fabric are used to kill bacteria, making clothing odor-resistant.
Nanotechnology Consumer Products
Nano has already found its way into lots of products you use every day, from clothing to tennis racquets. In fact, if you strolled around your home you’d probably find dozens of products manufactured using some kind of nanotechnology. A nanoporous material called aerogel that is an excellent insulator, for example insulating the walls of your house would only need about one third the thickness if you used this material instead of conventional insulation.
Knapsacks and briefcases that include flexible, nanoparticle-based solar cells to charge your cell phone and other devices on the go. Skin care products that use nanoparticles to deliver vitamins deeper into the skin. Sunscreens that use nanoparticles to block UV rays without leaving white residue on the skin. Lithium-ion batteries that use nanoparticle-based electrodes powering plug-in electric cars. Flame retardant formed by coating the foam used in furniture with carbon nanofibers. Fishing rods that use silica nanoparticles to fill spaces between carbon fibers, strengthening the rod without increasing the weight. Piezoelectric fibers that could allow clothing to generate electricity through normal motions. Form-fitting clothing made using fabric composed of proteins, this material may stretch as much as 1500 percent from its original size. Titanium oxide nanoparticles as part of a film that uses the energy in light to kill bacteria on surfaces. Titanium oxide nanoparticles are called photocatalysts because of their ability to use energy in light to start the chemical reaction that kills the bacteria.
Nanoparticle Applications and the Environment
Researchers are using photocatalytic copper tungsten oxide nanoparticles to break down oil into biodegradable compounds. The nanoparticles are in a grid that provides a high surface area for the reaction is activated by sunlight and can work in water, making them useful for cleaning up oil spills. Researchers are using gold nanoparticles embedded in a porous manganese oxide as a room temperature catalyst to break down volatile organic pollutants in the air. Iron nanoparticles are being used to clean up carbon tetrachloride pollution in groundwater. Iron oxide nanoparticles are being used to clean arsenic from water wells.
Nanoparticle Applications in Energy and Electronics
Researchers have used nanoparticles called nanotetrapods studded with nanoparticles of carbon to develop low-cost electrodes for fuel cells. This electrode may be able to replace the expensive platinum needed for fuel cell catalysts. Researchers at Georgia Tech, the University of Tokyo and Microsoft Research have developed a method to print prototype circuit boards using standard inkjet printers. Silver nanoparticle ink was used to form the conductive lines needed in circuit boards. Combining gold nanoparticles with organic molecules creates a transistor known as a NOMFET (Nanoparticle Organic Memory Field-Effect Transistor). This transistor is unusual in that it can function in a way similar to synapses in the nervous system. A catalyst using platinum-cobalt nanoparticles is being developed for fuel cells that produce twelve times more catalytic activity than pure platinum. In order to achieve this performance, researchers anneal nanoparticles to form them into a crystalline lattice, reducing the spacing between platinum atoms on the surface and increasing their reactivity. Researchers have demonstrated that sunlight, concentrated on nanoparticles, can produce steam with high energy efficiency. The “solar steam device” is intended to be used in areas of developing countries without electricity for applications such as purifying water or disinfecting dental instruments. A lead-free solder reliable enough for space missions and other high-stress environments using copper nanoparticles. Silicon nanoparticles coating anodes of lithium-ion batteries can increase battery power and reduce recharge time.
Semiconductor nanoparticles are being applied in a low-temperature printing process that enables the manufacture of low-cost solar cells. A layer of closely spaced palladium nanoparticles is being used in a hydrogen sensor. When hydrogen is absorbed, the palladium nanoparticles swell, causing shorts between nanoparticles. These shorts lower the resistance of the palladium layer.