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Graphic element Research > Growth > Research projects > Materials & technologies projects > Nanotechnology: a small science with a huge potential
Graphic element Nanotechnology: a small science with a huge potential

Nanotechnology for the information society
Nanoelectronics continues the developments in microelectronics, but at significantly smaller size-scales. The speed of computing or chip performance has doubled on average every 18 months since the mid 1970s (Moore's Law). Manufacturers have squeezed more and more transistors on to a chip thereby facilitating today's information technology revolution and the meteoric rise of the computing industry. But Moore's Law for chip performance is expected to come to an end in ten years or so when the miniaturisation of the components reaches fundamental physical limits. Nanoelectronics is essential to sustain the progress in computing and memory capability.

The world market for nanoelectronics will be worth many hundreds of billions of euros, making this industry a driving force behind the current development of nanotechnology. Nanoelectronics will create more powerful computers and memories with higher storage densities, for use in telephones, cars, domestic appliances and a multitude of existing and novel consumer and industrial applications.

In addition, entirely new concepts are being pioneered, such as the potential use of DNA molecules as transistors in nanoelectronics. Physicists and electronic engineers are now working closely with chemists and biologists in this field.

Nanotechnology for medical and life sciences
In nanobiotechnology, nanoscale engineering is combined with biology to manipulate living systems directly or to build biologically inspired materials at the molecular level. Nanobiotechnology will provide biosensors and biomaterials. The impact on medicine and human health will be far-reaching, ranging from progressively sophisticated medical bio-chips and precision drug delivery systems right through to increasingly biocompatible materials.

A new breed of bio-chips could provide future treatments for life-threatening conditions, including cancer and heart disease. Such devices could be implanted into the body to deliver doses of drugs or to carry new cells to repair damaged tissue, while others could detect mutated genes or high hormone levels indicating the potential for malignancy. These advanced medical devices require data processing at the nanoscale. To develop them demands knowledge of several competencies: medical science, molecular biology, quantum chemistry, and materials science.

Nanotechnology for structural and chemical industrial purposes
Nanomaterials are materials or particles with a precisely controlled morphology at nanoscale dimensions. The fabrication of nanostructures will yield materials with new and improved properties for use in organic solar cells, anti-corrosion coatings, tougher and harder cutting tools, photocatalytic air purifiers, longer lasting medical implants, and for applications in the transport industry. Nanosized structures have already been produced in the form of potential catalysts for environmental devices to reduce pollution, etc.

The challenge now is to find ways to make nanotechnology cost-effective, and researchers in the disciplines of chemistry and physics are already familiar with examples of reliable, efficient and economical nanoscale manufacturing: the biological systems of nature.

Looking to the future, making a computer display could become as easy as printing a page of text using a PC's ink-jet printer. The printer would not be filled with ink but with a chemical solution containing tiny (nano) components which, on demand, would organise themselves into a usable, flexible display. Then there are nanomaterials or 'smart' fabrics able to open up millions of nanoscale holes in clothing when a person becomes too hot, or close them in the presence of a dangerous chemical.

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Current applications
Potential for the future
Nanotechnology in Europe
European Research Area
Trans-Atlantic co-operation on nanotechnology
Major EU-funded nanotechnology projects

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