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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 724

Government of Sri Lanka plans to introduce Nanotechnology to industrialists

Sunil C. Perera - Reporting from Colombo

The Government of Sri Lanka, together with the Ministry of Science and Technology have decided to introduce nanotechnology to Sri Lanka. Minister Professor Tissa Vitharana says his ministry plans to set up a National Nanotechnology Center in the close proximity of Colombo to popularize nanotechnology among the local industrialists to grab overseas trading opportunities.Minister Prof Tissa Vitharana says his ministry plans to set up a National Nanotechnology Center. Minister Prof Tissa Vitharana says his ministry plans to set up a National Nanotechnology Center.

Addressing a media conference held on Friday in Colombo, the veteran politician said the proposed center needs 600 million rupees to kickoff the project.

"We requested the government to allocate funds to this center," he said.

At present Sri Lanka has over 16 Scientists who follow nanotechnology in various sectors. The Minister said this is a new technology for Sri Lankans, but it is now old for others.

Nanotechnology is a field of applied science focused on the design, synthesis, characterization and application of materials and devices on the nanoscale.

Nanotechnology is a sub classification of technology in colloidal science, biology, physics, chemistry and other scientific fields and involves the study of phenomena and manipulation of material at the nanoscale, in essence an extension of existing sciences into the nanoscale.

Two main approaches are used in nanotechnology: one is a "bottom-up" approach where materials and devices are built up atom by atom, the other a "top-down" approach where they are synthesized or constructed by removing existing material from larger entities. A unique aspect of nanotechnology is the vastly increased ratio of surface area to volume present in many nanoscale materials, which opens new possibilities in surface-based science, such as catalysis. This catalytic activity also opens potential risks in their interaction with biomaterials.

The impetus for nanotechnology has stemmed from a renewed interest in colloidal science, coupled with a new generation of analytical tools such as the atomic force microscope (AFM) and the scanning tunneling microscope (STM).

Combined with refined processes such as electron beam lithography, these instruments allow the deliberate manipulation of nanostructures. These new materials and structures have in turn lead to the observation of novel phenomena such as the "quantum size effect" where the electronic properties of solids are altered with great reductions in particle size. This effect does not come into play by going from macro to micro dimensions. However, it becomes dominant when the nanometer size range is reached. Nanotechnology is also used as an umbrella term to describe emerging or novel technological developments associated with microscopic dimensions. Despite the great promise of numerous nanotechnologies such as quantum dots and nanotubes, real applications that have moved out of the lab and into the marketplace have mainly utilized the advantages of colloidal nanoparticles, such as suntan lotions, cosmetics, protective coatings and stain resistant textiles.

More broadly, nanotechnology includes the many techniques used to create structures at a size scale below 100 nm, including those used for fabrication of nanowires, those used in semiconductor fabrication such as deep ultraviolet lithography, electron beam lithography, focused ion beam machining, nanoimprint lithography, atomic layer deposition, and molecular vapor deposition, and further including molecular self-assembly techniques such as those employing di-block copolymers. However, all of these techniques preceded the nanotech era, and are extensions in the development of scientific advancements rather than techniques which were devised with the sole purpose of creating nanotechnology or which were results of nanotechnology research.

Technologies currently branded with the term 'nano' are little related to and fall far short of the most ambitious and transformative technological goals of the sort in molecular manufacturing proposals, but the term still connotes such ideas. Thus there may be a danger that a "nano bubble" will form from the use of the term by scientists and entrepreneurs to garner funding, regardless of (and perhaps despite a lack of) interest in the transformative possibilities of more ambitious and far-sighted work.

The National Science Foundation (a major source of funding for nanotechnology in the United States) funded researcher David Berube to study the field of nanotechnology. His findings are published in the monograph “Nano-Hype: The Truth Behind the Nanotechnology Buzz.” This published study (with a foreword by Mihail Roco, head of the NNI) concludes that much of what is sold as "nanotechnology" is in fact a recasting of straightforward materials science, which is leading to a "nanotech industry built solely on selling nanotubes, nanowires, and the like" which will "end up with a few suppliers selling low margin products in huge volumes."

Nanoscience and nanotechnology only became possible in the 1910s with the development of the first tools to measure and make nanostructures. But the actual development started in with the discovery of electron and neutrons which showed the scientists that the matter can really exist smaller than what we think is small. This is the time when the curiosity for nanostructures has been developed.

The atomic force microscope (AFM) and the Scanning Tunneling Microscope (STM) are two early versions of scanning probes that launched nanotechnology. There are other types of scanning probe microscopy, all based on the idea of the STM that make it possible to see structures at the nanoscale.

The tip of scanning probes can also be used to manipulate nanostructures (a process called positional assembly). However, this is a very slow process. This led to the development of various techniques of nanolithography such as dip pen nanolithography, electron beam lithography or nanoimprint lithography.

Lithography is a top-down fabrication technique where a bulk material is reduced in size to nanoscale pattern.

In contrast, bottom-up techniques build or grow larger structures atom-by-atom or molecule-by-molecule. These techniques include chemical synthesis, self-assembly and positional assembly.

Nanotechnology research has focused primarily on molecular manufacturing - the creation of tools, materials, and machines that will eventually enable us "to snap together the fundamental building blocks of nature easily, inexpensively and in most of the ways permitted by the laws of physics."

A leading nanotech scientist describes past efforts at molecular level manufacturing as attempts to assemble LEGO pieces while wearing boxing gloves. Nanotechnology, he believes, will enable us to take off the gloves and build extraordinary things.

The timeline of nanotech history usually begins with a talk given in 1959 by physicist Richard Feynman, titled "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom." The next milestone comes in 1981, when MIT graduate student K. Eric Drexler, inspired by Feynman, published an article called "Protein design as a pathway to molecular manufacturing." This is followed by Drexler's definitive 1986 book, Engines of Creation, now available on the Web in its entirety.

The Foresight Institute, founded by Drexler and colleagues, remains a primary source of nanoscience research. Recently, Foresight launched Nanodot, a news and discussion site for the latest nano developments, fashioned in collaborative, up-to-the-minute Slashdot format.

We are still in the dawn age of nanotechnology. Theories and techniques continue to emerge -- captivating scientists, students, entrepreneurs, investors, and even the U.S. government, which is betting that nanotechnology could lead to the next industrial revolution.

With powerful tools like the scanning tunneling microscope (STM), processes like molecular beam epitaxy (a way to build layered materials by "spray painting with atoms"), and brave new materials like fullerenes, the potential for innovation is vast.

Nanotechnology is a realm of possibility that reads like speculative science fiction. A richly illustrated PDF brochure titled "Nanotechnology: Shaping the World Atom by Atom" increased our understanding of this "ultimate toy box.

- Asian Tribune -

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