THE FUTURE OF CHALLENGES, RISKS AND ETHICS
THE FUTURE OF CHALLENGES, RISKS AND ETHICS
In the world of “Star Trek,” machines called replicators can produce practically any physical object, from weapons to a steaming cup of Earl Grey tea. Long considered to be exclusively the product of science fiction, today some people believe replicators are a very real possibility. They call it molecular manufacturing, and if it ever does become a reality, it could drastically change the world.
The first step would be to develop nanoscopic machines, called assemblers, that scientists can program to manipulate atoms and molecules at will. Rice University Professor Richard Smalley points out that it would take a single nanoscopic machine millions of years to assemble a meaningful amount of material. In order for molecular manufacturing to be practical, you would need trillions of assemblers working together simultaneously. Eric Drexler believes that assemblers could first replicate themselves, building other assemblers. Each generation would build another, resulting in exponential growth until there are enough assemblers to produce objects.
Trillions of assemblers and replicators could fill an area smaller than a cubic millimeter, and could still be too small for us to see with the naked eye. Assemblers and replicators could work together to automatically construct products, and could eventually replace all traditional labor methods. This could vastly decrease manufacturing costs, thereby making consumer goods plentiful, cheaper and stronger. Eventually, we could be able to replicate anything, including diamonds, water and food. Famine could be eradicated by machines that fabricate foods to feed the hungry.
Nanotechnology may have its biggest impact on the medical industry. Patients will drink fluids containing nanorobots programmed to attack and reconstruct the molecular structure of cancer cells and viruses. There’s even speculation that nanorobots could slow or reverse the aging process, and life expectancy could increase significantly. Nanorobots could also be programmed to perform delicate surgeries such nanosurgeons could work at a level a thousand times more precise than the sharpest scalpel [source: International Journal of Surgery]. By working on such a small scale, a nanorobot could operate without leaving the scars that conventional surgery does. Additionally, nanorobots could change your physical appearance. They could be programmed to perform cosmetic surgery, rearranging your atoms to change your ears, nose, eye color or any other physical feature you wish to alter.
Nanotechnology has the potential to have a positive effect on the environment. For instance, scientists could program airborne nanorobots to rebuild the thinning ozone layer. Nanorobots could remove contaminants from water sources and clean up oil spills. Manufacturing materials using the bottom-upmethod of nanotechnology also creates less pollution than conventional manufacturing processes. Our dependence on non-renewable resources would diminish with nanotechnology. Cutting down trees, mining coal or drilling for oil may no longer be necessary – nanomachines could produce those resources.
Many nanotechnology experts feel that these applications are well outside the realm of possibility, at least for the foreseeable future. They caution that the more exotic applications are only theoretical. Some worry that nanotechnology will end up like virtual reality – in other words, the hype surrounding nanotechnology will continue to build until the limitations of the field become public knowledge, and then interest (and funding) will quickly dissipate.
- Next ten years will see nano technology playing the most dominant role in the global business environment and is expected to go beyond the billion dollar estimates and cross the figure of $ one trillion.
- The market share for the nano technology products such as Nano materials will be about $ 340 billion, Electronics and Semi conductors will be $ 300 billion, Pharmaceutical will be around $ 180 billion and Aerospce and chemical plants and tools will be around $ 200 billion.
In this scenario, it is essential to have a focused mission to capture at least 5 per cent ($ 50 billon) market share within 10 years time from now, using our core competence with international partnership.
For this we have to launch vertical missions under an umbrella organization (like CII/NASSCOM) with the public private investment in at least 10 nano technology products in Water, Energy, Agriculture, Healthcare, Space and Defence and ICT sectors.
In these identified vertical missions DST, R and D institutions, Universities, Indian Private Industries, CII, FICCI and NASSCOM should work together in partnership with international industry and academic partners for faster design, development and production of products for world market.
NANOTECHNOLOGY CHALLENGES, RISKS AND ETHICS
The most immediate challenge in nanotechnology is that we need to learn more about materials and their properties at the nanoscale. Universities and corporations across the world are rigorously studying how atoms fit together to form larger structures. We’re still learning about how quantum mechanics impact substances at the nanoscale.
Because elements at the nanoscale behave differently than they do in their bulk form, there’s a concern that some nanoparticles could be toxic. Some doctors worry that the nanoparticles are so small, that they could easily cross the blood-brain barrier, a membrane that protects the brain from harmful chemicals in the bloodstream. If we plan on using nanoparticles to coat everything from our clothing to our highways, we need to be sure that they won’t poison us.
Closely related to the knowledge barrier is the technical barrier. In order for the incredible predictions regarding nanotechnology to come true, we have to find ways to mass produce nano-size products like transistors and nanowires. While we can use nanoparticles to build things like tennis rackets and make wrinkle-free fabrics, we can’t make really complex microprocessor chips with nanowires yet.
There are some hefty social concerns about nanotechnology too. Nanotechnology may also allow us to create more powerful weapons, both lethal and non-lethal. Some organizations are concerned that we’ll only get around to examining the ethical implications of nanotechnology in weaponry after these devices are built. They urge scientists and politicians to examine carefully all the possibilities of nanotechnology before designing increasingly powerful weapons.
If nanotechnology in medicine makes it possible for us to enhance ourselves physically, is that ethical? In theory, medical nanotechnology could make us smarter, stronger and give us other abilities ranging from rapid healing to night vision. Should we pursue such goals? Could we continue to call ourselves human, or would we become transhuman — the next step on man’s evolutionary path? Since almost every technology starts off as very expensive, would this mean we’d create two races of people – a wealthy race of modified humans and a poorer population of unaltered people? We don’t have answers to these questions, but several organizations are urging nanoscientists to consider these implications now, before it becomes too late.
Not all questions involve altering the human body – some deal with the world of finance and economics. If molecular manufacturing becomes a reality, how will that impact the world’s economy? Assuming we can build anything we need with the click of a button, what happens to all the manufacturing jobs? If you can create anything using a replicator, what happens to currency? Would we move to a completely electronic economy? Would we even need money?
Whether we’ll actually need to answer all of these questions is a matter of debate. Many experts think that concerns like grey goo and transhumans are at best premature, and probably unnecessary. Even so, nanotechnology will definitely continue to impact us as we learn more about the enormous potential of the nanoscale.
INDIA’S NANO MISSION
The Government of India has approved the launch of a Mission on Nano Science and Technology (Nano Mission with an allocation of Rs. 1000 crore for 5 years. The Department of Science and Technology will be the nodal agency for implementing the Nano Mission.
Capacity-building in this upcoming area of research will be of utmost importance for the Nano Mission so that India emerges as a global knowledge-hub in this field also. For this, research on fundamental aspects of nanoscience and training of large number of manpower will receive prime attention. Equally importantly, the Nam Mission will strive for development of products and processes for national development, especially in areas d national relevance like safe drinking water, materials development, sensors development, drug delivery, etc. For this, it will forge linkages between educational and research institutions and industry and promote Public Private Partnerships.
The Nano Mission has been structured in a fashion so as to achieve synergy between the national research efforts of various agencies in Nano Science and Technology and launch new programmes in a concerted fashion. International collaborative research efforts will also be made wherever required.
The Nano Mission is the result of considerable promotional efforts already put in by the Government of India to promote nanotechnology research. Over 100 research projects have been funded so far. Several centres excellence on nanoscience and nanotechnology have also been established. A number of post-doctoral fellowships have been awarded. Several national and international conferences, schools, etc. have been organized, The Government has spent approximately Rs. 200 crore over the past 5 years to promote R&D in this area. These scientists, facilities and centres will form part of the network of the Nano Mission.
Besides launching the Nano Science and Technology Initiative, India has also entered into bilateral nanotechnology programmes with the European Union, Germany, Italy, Taiwan and the United States. Two years ago, a national centre for nanomaterials was set up at the International Advanced Research Centre for Powder Metallurgy and New Materials (ARCI) in Hyderabad, in collaboration with Germany, Japan, Russia, Ukraine and the United States.
When fully operational – possibly within about a year – the centre will include pilot-scale facilities for producing and manipulating carbon nanotubes, ceramic and polymer composites reinforced with such nanotubes and nanopowders for water and air purification technologies.
Indian industries have started understanding the commercial viability of nanotechnology based products and their impact on national economy.lt will be targeted towards the main streams like electronics, healthcare markets, and other industrial products.
Center for Science and Industrial Research has developed an Ultrafiltration membrane with pores too small to permit viruses and bacteria, and self-assembled Nanotapes of Oligo (p-phenylenevinylene). It is also involved in fabrication of Abased metallic glasses through evolution of Nano-phases; a novel process to produce nanomaterials on commercial scale;
The Government has approved a joint project for setting up Nanoelectronics Centres at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore and the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay with a total outlay of Rs. 100 crores over a period of five years.
Scientists at IISc, Bangalore synthesized different kinds of nanoparticles of Gemini catonic lipids for delivering genes.
National Mission on Nano Science and Technology (NANO Mission)
A mission on Nano Science and Technology was launched in May 2007 to foster, promote and develop all aspects of nanoscience and nanotechnology for the benefit of whole country
For nurturing public-Private activities, the department has sanctioned a few nanotechnology projects. The notable ones are:
- Nano Functional Materials Technology Centre (NFMTC): Its focus is on the cost effective method for the production of oxide ceramic powders of nono size.
- Research Program on Smart and Innovative Textiles (SMITA) at IIT, Delhi: The program aims at fundamental understanding of generation of novel materials such as nanofibres, nanofinishers and encapsulated phase change materials with desired characteristics.
- Unit on Nano Science at JNCASR, Bangalore: Has synthesized Nanocrystals of pure CoO and ReO3 for the first time employing a one-pot solve thermal technique.
- Unit on Nano-Science at IIT Kanpur: Has developed two novel soft lithography techniques namely, elastic contact lithography and adhesive force assisted lithography based on self-organization of polymer thin films.