Riding on the back of nanotechnology, the world is at the threshold of witnessing yet another pervasive revolution which can change the face of the planet. Dr. R.P. Singh, Director, Amity Institute of Nanotechnology, Noida, sheds light on the potential of this new science in a talk with Himanshu Kumar Singh and Bhuwan Sharma of Amity EduMedia. In a career spanning 40 years in R&D and S&T Management, Dr. Singh has worked with the Government of India in various capacities including that of Advisor, Department of Science and Technology and Chairman, "Working Group on Electronic Instruments" for the Ninth Plan, set up by Department of Electronics, Government of India. "International Biographical Centre," Cambridge included Dr. Singh in "2000 Outstanding Scientists of the 21st Century," in honor of his outstanding contribution in the field of Applied Physics & Instrumentation.
What is nanotechnology in a common man’s language?
Nano is a `Greek' word meaning dwarf i.e. small. Nanotechnology is the ability to manipulate materials at a molecular level driving out novel and exciting properties. When material is reduced down to 100 nm (10 -9 meter =1 nanometer), all its properties including chemical, electrical, thermal, mechanical and optical get changed. Nanomaterials are thousands of times smaller than the diameter of a human hair, i.e. about 60 microns.
What kind of impact will it have on everyday life?
The impact of nanotechnology is expanding and nothing will remain untouched. Applications are enormous and limitless. Nanotechnology enables in doing things better than conventional technology. For example:
- Surface coatings consisting of nanomaterials become scratch proof, weather proof, more durable, better shining and dirt repellant.
- Nanotechnology can enable drugs to destroy cancer or tumor without any side-effects.
- Nanotubes pacemakers placed in the heart blood vessels could generate electricity for heart function. Nanosized robots can repair damaged and diseased tissues.
- Converting sunlight into power, cleaning the pond water for drinking, creating sensor in the form of biochips to be planted in human body are the major breakthroughs of nanotechnology.
- Nanosized titanium dioxide is used in cosmetics, sunscreens, creams, and lotions, which become more durable.
- Clothes can block chemical and biological weapons from touching the skin. Nanotechnology can help detect narcotics and finger prints of suspects in crime.
- Nano assembled monolayer could be coated on to the fibres of the apparel so that it does not attract dirt and becomes self-cleaning and germ free.
- There are enormous applications in computers to increase memory and speed. It is said that computers will run fast, medicines will cure all diseases, and pollution could be eliminated with the application of nanotechnology. The applications are immense, and it is predicted that it is going to revolutionize the industrial world in the 21 st century.
Will it be more pervasive than information technology?
Nanotechnology devices are going to be quality products offering better comfort with less cost. As the materials required for making devices are very little, it saves cost. Carbon Nanotubes and Nanophosphors used for Flat Panel Displays require low voltage and so consume less power for generating much more illumination. The amount of nanodrug giving to the patient is minimized to cure diseases, which saves the cost on materials. With the advent of `laboratory on a chip'—when very little analytic is analyzed with high sensitivity—it will reduce costs. Human health diagnostic kit based on `lab on chip' is going to benefit the entire mankind.
Nanogold of 5 nm size, for example, melts at only around 450 0C. For making ornaments, goldsmiths may not require big and sophisticated furnaces to raise the temperature to the melting point of gold, i.e. 1020 0C. Carbon Nanotubes are used for fuel energy, which are more efficient.
What kind of initiatives should India take to be at the happier side of the nano-divide?
The future prospects of nanotechnology are very bright, as it directly concerns the quality, comfort and better health of the masses. Lot of academic institutions, R&D labs and industries are likely to come up. Government of India is promoting focused programmes in nanotechnology. It has allocated 100 crores for five years. In addition, more funds are being allocated to scientific departments by the Planning Commission. His Excellency, the President of India has encouraged the scientists by saying:
"My interest is: Fast National Development. I am convinced that `nano' is the greatest building block for health care, structural material, in electronics, automation, etc. and will become the platform for new cutting-edge technologies to grow for better living of mankind."
How many companies are involved in the research and development of nanotechnology?
There are only a few companies in India, which are involved in R&D & commercialization of nanoproducts. This is because of the fact that hardly any product is available for commercialization. Industries, therefore, will grow only when some products have been developed, which may perhaps take a few more years.
What is the situation of opportunities available in the field of nanotechnology for students?
There are three types of jobs which an engineer or scientist can look for:
- Teaching Job
- Higher Studies/Research
- Jobs in the Industry
Most of the industrial products are going to imbibe nanotechnology to improve the quality, stability and utility. Many academic institutions are going to start courses in nanotechnology. A few have already started the subject. The students may get jobs in industries, academic institutions & in R&D labs for research. There are ample opportunities for research abroad as well as in India. Government is likely to establish exclusive centers for specific subjects in nanotechnology like Center for Modeling and Simulation, Carbon Nanotubes & Ors. Students may get good job in these Centres.
What is the nature of Amity Institute of Nanotechnology?
Amity Institute of Nanotechnology is the first institute in the country, set up in 2003, offering M. Tech (Nanotechnology) degree programme. A few technical institutions like IIT's and others have now introduced nanotechnology as one of the papers in the curriculum of engineering. As far as I know, there is no other educational or scientific institute offering course exclusively in nanotechnology at graduate or post-graduate levels. Amity Institute of Nanotechnology is starting two new courses - 5 1/2 year Integrated M. Tech (Nanotechnology), and 2 year M.Sc. (Nanoscience).
Does this institute conduct research in this field?
Amity Institute of Nanotechnology is the first in the country imparting M. Tech programme in the country. All the students of the first batch are doing their dissertation in foreign countries. Some of them have already been offered admission for Ph.D. Programmes. The Institute has also initiated research and a few projects have already been sanctioned by the Government of India and a few are in the pipeline. The areas of interest are:-
- Carbon Nanotube and their applications
- Sensor and Sensing nanomaterials
- Nanocomposites etc.