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Advances in Nanotechnology and Uses of Nanoparticles

Updated on June 9, 2015
Microscopic matter
Microscopic matter | Source

Copyright 2012 - Kris Heeter, Ph.D.

During the last decade, you might have heard any number of new words popping up using the prefix “nano-“. Most of these new words belong to the relatively new science of nanotechnology.

This is one of the fastest growing fields of research. The world of nanotechnology and the use of nanoparticles has quickly become a part of our every day lives - whether we realize it or not!

For those not familiar with this new field of technology, here’s a brief overview and some new nano words worth learning the definition of.

Nano Trivia

The prefix nano- is derived from the Greek word νᾶνος, meaning "dwarf".

What is the Definition of Nano?

The prefix “nano-“ officially became used as a standard of measurement around 1960. It refers to anything that is “one billionth” or otherwise noted as a factor of 10−9 or 0.000000001

The word nano is part of the metric system. Some of the more common references using this prefix over the last several decades include:

  • Nanometer (alternative spelling nanometre) - defined as one billionth of a meter
  • Nanoliter (alternative nanolitre) - defined as one billionth of a liter
  • Nanosecond - defined as one billionth of a second

These components so small that they are hard to imagine or visualize! But, they are measurable. Over the last decade, understanding and applying measurements this small have been the foundation for something now commonly referred to as Nanoscience or Nanotechnology.

How Nanotechnology Works

The Growing Field of Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology or “nanotech” refers to the micromanipulation of matter. The matter can be simple molecules and elements like silver, gold, titanium, etc., or it can be living matter that is manipulated for medical and technological advances.

Nanotechnology is now being used to create new materials and devices for personal care products, pesticides, electronics, medicine and much more.

Nanotech products are everywhere although you will hardly ever see them listed as an ingredient or component.

Common Nanomaterials and Engineered Nanoparticles

Some examples of nanoparticles include:

  • Nanocarbon
  • Nanosilver
  • Nanogold
  • Nanotitanium
  • Nanoplatinum
  • Nanocopper

These engineered nanoparticles (ENPs) are now being used in everyday household and personal products, including cosmetics.

For example, nanosilver is used is many brands of socks as an anti-fungal agent. Nanotitanitum, a form of titanium dioxide, is used to increase the whiteness of products like paints, paper and plastics. It is also used in some cosmetics and suncreens.

NanoMedicine – the latest in medical technology

NanoMedicine is one of the hottest growing technologies in the medical industry. It includes everything from nanosurgery to nanobots.

Be prepared to walk into a whole new medical world over the next few decades. I guarantee that you will be hearing many of the following terms more often:

Nanosurgery refers to the use of tiny microscopic needles or femtosecond lasers (a laser with ultra-short pulses) to perform surgery on individual cells and was designed for advances in gene therapy and cancer treatment.

Nanoknife refers to a new laparoscopic cancer treatment procedure. It’s being used to ablate or kill hard to reach cancer tumors and ones that can’t be easily removed surgically (e.g., tumors in the liver and pancreas).

Nanobots or nanorobots are two terms being used to refer to small DNA or molecular robots that are also being explored for fighting cancer.

Nanoparticles are also being designed to deliver deliver therapeutic drugs to targeted sites and to help minimize toxic side effects of chemotherapy drugs.

Nanoscale cancer detection has been developed to identify and quantify cancer cells that break off from tumors and circulate through the blood. This new technology may eventually allow doctors to test and identify cancer in earlier stages.

Related Articles of Interest

Engineered Nanoparticles (ENPs) In Food - Are They Dangerous? - ENPs are presently being used in vitamin supplements and are being explored as additives to food and food packaging (to prevent spoilage). Click on the article title to learn more.

DNA Nanobots to Fight Cancer and other Diseases - Tiny DNA robots are being researched and tested as a new cancer treatment. Learn more about how these microscopic robots are being used by clicking on the title above.

Silver Nanoparticles In Household Products Can Have Effects on Human Reproduction- Nano silver particles are now being used in hundreds of consumer products. Up until recently nanosilver has been thought to be completely safe. New research suggests that these particles can have long lasting negative health impacts, including DNA damage and effects on human reproduction.

Nanotech Food and Supplements

Engineered nanoparticles (often referred to as ENPs) are currently being used in a number consumer products including food and supplements.

Unfortunately, the safety of ENPs in food is unknown. The effects of long-term exposure have not been researched.

Nanoparticles are being created to increase the shelf life of food and to make it taste better.

In addition, supplements containing nanoparticles have been on the market – sometimes referred to as "nanoceuticals".

The disclosure of ENPs as an ingredient in food is not required and supplements are not subject to review by the FDA for safety or toxicity. There are growing concerns among some research groups and scientists that nanoparticles in dietary supplements and food may cause health problems.

Living Nanoparticles

Nanobacteria have recently been discovered and are much smaller than what was ever thought possible for life. To put it into perspective, a normal bacterium is about 200 nanometers in size. An nanobacterium would be less than 50 nanometers. Nanobacteria are still somewhat controversial – very little is known about them. However, they have been found to be dwell in humans!

Nanonets have recently been described as antimicrobial peptides (proteins) that form a web- or net-like structure in the human gut that serve to capture invading bacteria.

Other Nanotech Products and Technology

Scientists continue to explore the world of nanoscience. New technologies and new nano words will continue to evolve. And, over the years, many companies have jumped on the marketing bandwagon to create new products that either incorporate nanotechnology or use the word “nano”.

Here is just a small sample of other related nano words popping up:


This term has been used to refer to a “eco-friendly” nano-ceramic coating for metal, plastics, glass and solar panels. It is marketed as anti-corrosive, anti-fingerprint and anti-abrasion.

It is also a term used to refer to the latest in a chip-based nanoelectrospray ionization technology by a company called Advion (a machine called the TriVersa NanoMate that is used for medical and scientific research).


This is the commercial name given for nano magnesium that is used to create light-weight and high-strength magnesium sheets.

One current application is as a lightweight protective case for iPhones.There are many other applications being explored, including the development of bioabsorbable implants.

(Note: this term is also used to refer to a pickup in music that provides an acoustic sound but has nothing to do with nanotechnology. It is also used to refer to a magnetic aquarium cleaning device that does not appear to be nanotechnology based).


Nanocar is a small molecule designed in 2005 at Rice University. It consists of an H-shaped microscopic 'chassis' made with specific chemical groups attached at the four corners to act as wheels. It is considered the first step in creating molecular machines.

This nanotechnology is evolving and new “nanocars” are being created – e.g, a new molecular machine called the “nanodragster”.

(Note: "Nano Car" is also used to refer to a small automobile created by Tata Motors out of India).


What Does the Future Hold?

This will undoubtedly be a technology field to watch and one to stay informed on. New products and new medical procedures will be evolving.

Feel free to share your thoughts and comments below on some of these new technologies!


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    • mperrottet profile image

      Margaret Perrottet 5 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      I was at a technology conference about 7 years ago, and an IBM spokesperson was asked what the next biggest leap would be in technology, and he replied "nano technology". I certainly holds much promise - especially in medicine. I had no idea they were introducing nano particles into food - that's a little scary. This was a great hub - voted up, interesting and useful.

    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 5 years ago from Indiana

      @sradie - thanks for stopping by. I was also surprised to learn how much of it is already immersed in our culture. It's been an advancing area of research in the biomedical and basic biological research fields for the last 8-10 years so I had some exposure to it through my own research, but I really had not idea how far reaching it has become until just recently.

    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 5 years ago from Indiana

      @GoForTheJuggler - Looks like we can get it here though NetFlix. Thanks for the extra info!

    • sradie profile image

      sradie 5 years ago from Palm Coast FL

      Very interesting introduction to nano technology. never having known before now, what the term actually meant, many of us like myself, have been using it for years. You have added value to the term for me that will make in more interesting when I see it employed. Good article.

    • GoForTheJuggler profile image

      Joshua Patrick 5 years ago from Texas

      It's a UK comedic sci-fi series about the last human in the galaxy who is stuck on a mining ship named Red Dwarf (and his zany cast of friends). The nanobots make their appearance around Season 7 (don't worry, UK seasons are notoriously short). Give it a couple of episodes to let the characters grow on you before passing judgement.

    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 5 years ago from Indiana

      @GoForTheJuggler - I haven't seen the Red Dwarf I'm curious about it! I'll have to see if it's available here in the U.S.

      @jainismus - I'm glad this article was able to give you some of the information you were looking for. Thanks for stopping by!

    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 5 years ago from Indiana

      @Brett.Tesol - I agree about the food labeling. With the push by consumers to have genetically modified foods labeled here in the U.S., I see this as an eventual extension of that. Those that do read labels and concerned about what is in their food, I see this as eventually becoming as big an issue as GMOs if nanoparticles become used routinely in food. Thanks adding to the discussion!

    • jainismus profile image

      Mahaveer Sanglikar 5 years ago from Pune, India

      I wanted to know about this this and here it came. Thank you for sharing the information.

    • GoForTheJuggler profile image

      Joshua Patrick 5 years ago from Texas

      Nanotech is one of the few overly scientific things that consistently interests me, and it always makes me think of the UK series Red Dwarf.... =P

      Voted up, across, shared!

    • Brett.Tesol profile image

      Brett Caulton 5 years ago from Thailand

      Up, useful and interesting. The future looks very interesting for nano technology. The good that this level of development and manipulation could offer is yet untold. However, I do find it concerning that food products can be altered without full disclosure. OK, many do not read the labels, but you should at least have a choice in the matter!

      Shared, tweeted and pinned.

    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 5 years ago from Indiana

      @molometer - thanks for stopping by and sharing. This is an interesting new technology - so many positive as well as negative aspects to it

      I'm excited about the new advances in cancer but also carefully watching the research coming out on how some nanoparticles are causing health and environmental problems - it's a double edge sword!

    • molometer profile image

      molometer 5 years ago from United Kingdom

      Hello Kris,

      Well researched and detailed hub on the advances in nanotechnology.

      My family have a history of pancreatic cancer so this is really good news. My Father, Grandfather and Aunt all succumbed to this cancer.

      Thanks for sharing.

      Voted up interesting and very useful. SHARING

    • Mama Kim 8 profile image

      Sasha Kim 5 years ago

      Of all the Michael Crichton books it's my favorite, I highly recommend!

    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 5 years ago from Indiana

      @Mama Kim 8 - that's a book I have not read yet. It sounds like one I wound enjoy. I've read some of his others.

    • Mama Kim 8 profile image

      Sasha Kim 5 years ago

      Voted up and interesting! I've been fascinated by nanotechnology ever since reading "Prey" by Michael Crichton.

    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 5 years ago from Indiana

      @dmhenderson - thanks for stopping by. Ironically this all started out when I ran across a research article in this week's journal "Science" on the discovery of nanonets in the human gut. "Nanonets" turned out to be a new word for me and I became curious as how many new nano words and new nanotech products were popping up in recent years that I hadn't heard about yet. It's an amazing field that is growing fast!

    • dmhenderson profile image

      Dave Henderson 5 years ago from Missouri, USA

      It's clear that a good deal of work went into preparing this hub. Useful, interesting, and one vote up.