Thursday, November 3, 2011


Nanotechnology has emerged as a growing and rapidly changing field. New generations of nanomaterials will evolve, and with them new and possibly unforeseen environmental issues. It will be crucial that the Agency’s approaches to leveraging the benefits and assessing the impacts of nanomaterials continue to evolve in parallel with the expansion of and advances in these new technologies.Nanotechnology presents potential opportunities to create better materials and products. Already, nanomaterial-containing products are available in U.S. markets including coatings, computers, clothing, cosmetics, sports equipment and medical devices. A survey by EmTech Research of companies working in the field of nanotechnology has identified approximately 80 consumer products, and over 600 raw materials, intermediate components and industrial equipment items that are used by manufacturers.Nanotechnology also has the potential to improve the environment, both through direct applications of nanomaterials to detect, prevent, and remove pollutants, as well as indirectly by using nanotechnology to design cleaner industrial processes and create environmentally responsible products. However, there are unanswered questions about the impacts of nanomaterials and nanoproducts on human health and the environment, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has the obligation to ensure that potential risks are adequately understood to protect human health and the environment. As products made from nanomaterials become more numerous and therefore more prevalent in the environment, EPA is thus considering how to best leverage advances in nanotechnology to enhance environmental protection, as well as how the introduction of nanomaterials into the environment will impact the Agency’s environmental programs, policies, research needs, and approaches to decision making.
A nanometer is one billionth of a meter (10^-9 m)—about one hundred thousand times smaller than the diameter of a human hair, a thousand times smaller than a red blood cell, or about half the size of the diameter of DNA. Figure 1 illustrates the scale of objects in the nanometer range. For the purpose of this document, nanotechnology is defined as: research and technology development at the atomic, molecular, or macromolecular levels using a length scale of approximately one to one hundred nanometers in any dimension; the creation and use of structures, devices and systems that have novel properties and functions because of their small size; and the ability to control or manipulate matter on an atomic scale. This definition is based on part on the definition of nanotechnology used by the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI).

Carbon-based materials- The nanomaterials are composed mostly of carbon, most commonly taking the form of a hollow spheres, ellipsoids, or tubes. Spherical and ellipsoidal carbon nanomaterials are referred to as fullerenes, while cylindrical ones are called nanotubes. These particles have many potential applications, including improved films and coatings, stronger and lighter materials, and applications in electronics. Figures 3, 4, and 5 show examples of carbon-based nanomaterials.

Metal-based materials- These nanomaterials include quantum dots, nanogold, nanosilver and metal oxides, such as titanium dioxide. A quantum dot is a closely packed semiconductor crystal comprised of hundreds or thousands of atoms, and whose size is on the order of a few nanometers to a few hundred nanometers. Changing the size of quantum dots changes their optical properties. Figures 6 and 7 show examples of metal-based nanomaterials.

Composites- combine nanoparticles with other nanoparticles or with larger, bulk-type materials. Nanoparticles, such as nanosized clays, are already being added to products ranging from auto parts to packaging materials, to enhance mechanical, thermal, barrier, and flame-retardant properties.The unique properties of these various types of intentionally produced nanomaterials give them novel electrical, catalytic, magnetic, mechanical, thermal, or imaging features that are highly desirable for applications in commercial, medical, military, and environmental sectors. These materials may also find their way into more complex nanostructures and systems.As new uses for materials with these special properties are identified, the number of products containing such nanomaterials and their possible applications continues to grow.

Researcher is with a scanning beam interference lithography (SBIL) machine. This is used to create gratings and grids with structures on the scale of a few nanometres (billionths of a metre). The gratings created on this scale are used in astronomical telescopes such as the orbiting Chandra X-ray telescope and the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) satellite. SBIL uses a laser beam to create the pattern on the target surface. This allows for very precise control over the pattern. The SBIL could have many uses in the future as a source of nanotechnological components for computers and machines.

A research group of Dr. Carroll’s ranges from fundamental investigations of transport phenomena in nano-scale objects (tests of quantum mechanics in exotic topologies) to applications of nano-composite materials in organic devices. The group has active programs in the growth of novel nanostructures, manipulation and characterization of ordered assemblies of nanostructures, and the integration of nanomaterials into both standard device designs and novel quantum effect devices.The creation of novel new nanomaterials is an essential part of the nano-sciences. These materials can have exotic properties not normally found in nature. In fact, properties such as super strength, ultra-high thermal conductivity, and super conductivity have been observed for nano-systems when they are absent for the macro-counterparts of the same element. In our studies, the extra-ordinary properties of assemblies of nano-particles are used to test fundamental physical models, develop new ultra-light, ultra-strong materials systems, and create technology at the smallest length scales.

As an example, the carbon nanotube represents an interesting and complicated topology for the confinement of charge carriers with a diameter of only 1.4 nm and a length of microns. The molecular helicity, or chirality, of the nanotube breaks a fundamental symmetry of the nanotube’s point group. Their studies are examining the relationship of such symmetry breaking and the accumulation of geometrical phase factors (Berry’s phase) in such systems. When defects are added in an ordered fashion, the overall real space topology of the system can become much more interesting. It is hoped that the studies of these fundamental symmetries will set the foundations for the creation of quantum effect computation systems based on macro-molecular objects such as carbon nanotubes.

Molecular nanotechnology
Molecular nanotechnology, sometimes called molecular manufacturing, describes engineered nanosystems (nanoscale machines) operating on the molecular scale. Molecular nanotechnology is especially associated with the molecular assembler, a machine that can produce a desired structure or device atom-by-atom using the principles of mechanosynthesis. Manufacturing in the context of productive nanosystems is not related to, and should be clearly distinguished from, the conventional technologies used to manufacture nanomaterials such as carbon nanotubes and nanoparticles.When the term "nanotechnology" was independently coined and popularized by Eric Drexler (who at the time was unaware of an earlier usage by Norio Taniguchi) it referred to a future manufacturing technology based on molecular machine systems. The premise was that molecular scale biological analogies of traditional machine components demonstrated molecular machines were possible: by the countless examples found in biology, it is known that sophisticated, stochastically optimised biological machines can be produced.
It is hoped that developments in nanotechnology will make possible their construction by some other means, perhaps using biomimetic principles. However, Drexler and other researchers have proposed that advanced nanotechnology, although perhaps initially implemented by biomimetic means, ultimately could be based on mechanical engineering principles, namely, a manufacturing technology based on the mechanical functionality of these components (such as gears, bearings, motors, and structural members) that would enable programmable, positional assembly to atomic specification. The physics and engineering performance of exemplar designs were analyzed in Drexler's book Nanosystems.In general it is very difficult to assemble devices on the atomic scale, as all one has to position atoms on other atoms of comparable size and stickiness. Another view, put forth by Carlo Montemagno, is that future nanosystems will be hybrids of silicon technology and biological molecular machines. Yet another view, put forward by the late Richard Smalley, is that mechanosynthesis is impossible due to the difficulties in mechanically manipulating individual molecules.
This led to an exchange of letters in the ACS publication Chemical & Engineering News in 2003.Though biology clearly demonstrates that molecular machine systems are possible, non-biological molecular machines are today only in their infancy. Leaders in research on non-biological molecular machines are Dr. Alex Zettl and his colleagues at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratories and UC Berkeley. They have constructed at least three distinct molecular devices whose motion is controlled from the desktop with changing voltage: a nanotube nanomotor, a molecular actuator, and a nanoelectromechanical relaxation oscillator.

Tools and techniques
There are several important modern developments. 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 flowing from the ideas of the scanning confocal microscope developed by Marvin Minsky in 1961 and the scanning acoustic microscope (SAM) developed by Calvin Quate and coworkers in the 1970s, that made it possible to see structures at the nanoscale. The tip of a scanning probe can also be used to manipulate nanostructures (a process called positional assembly). Feature-oriented scanning-positioning methodology suggested by Rostislav Lapshin appears to be a promising way to implement these nanomanipulations in automatic mode. However, this is still a slow process because of low scanning velocity of the microscope. Various techniques of nanolithography such as optical lithography, X-ray lithography dip pen nanolithography, electron beam lithography or nanoimprint lithography were also developed. Lithography is a top-down fabrication technique where a bulk material is reduced in size to nanoscale pattern.

Another group of nanotechnological techniques include those used for fabrication of nanotubes and 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 and which were results of nanotechnology research.The top-down approach anticipates nanodevices that must be built piece by piece in stages, much as manufactured items are made. Scanning probe microscopy is an important technique both for characterization and synthesis of nanomaterials. Atomic force microscopes and scanning tunneling microscopes can be used to look at surfaces and to move atoms around. By designing different tips for these microscopes, they can be used for carving out structures on surfaces and to help guide self-assembling structures. By using, for example, feature-oriented scanning-positioning approach, atoms can be moved around on a surface with scanning probe microscopy techniques. At present, it is expensive and time-consuming for mass production but very suitable for laboratory experimentation.
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. Dual polarisation interferometry is one tool suitable for characterisation of self-assembled thin films. Another variation of the bottom-up approach is molecular beam epitaxy or MBE. Researchers at Bell Telephone Laboratories like John R. Arthur. Alfred Y. Cho and Art C. Gossard developed and implemented MBE as a research tool in the late 1960s and 1970s. Samples made by MBE were key to the discovery of the fractional quantum Hall effect for which the 1998 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded. MBE allows scientists to lay down atomically precise layers of atoms and, in the process, build up complex structures. Important for research on semiconductors, MBE is also widely used to make samples and devices for the newly emerging field of spintronics.

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