The world is a huge laboratory where many fascinating ingredients are hidden in everyday materials. We can find them all around us; can explore them through disintegration of everything that surrounds us. Whether it is a liquid or solid, or gas, or whether it is a plasma, or something inexplicable. Every material that we see and hold is a composite result of other materials which are in turn composites of other ones. So apparently, everything is an assemblage of different sets of materials. When we go deeper and deeper to find out the last pure material, it would be atoms which are again formed by subatomic particles such as protons, neutrons and electrons. These subatomic particles are also made up of elementary particles such as quarks and leptons. Here we stop dissecting the matter and quarks and leptons being regarded as the building block. All these matter possess some special properties attributed to their incredible composition. Such matters of such properties, one way or the other affects the human life, therefore it is essential for man to learn and comprehend the essence behind all this. That’s why material science is recognised as a cross road of all the various disciplines of science which is responsible for man’s overall health on the Earth.
Since the first time when man succeed to understand the nature of elements and sort them out in a distinct manner such as in periodic table, he became more and more curious to know about their potentials whether in the form of absolute purity or in the form of a composite. When single elements have found to be inadequate to satisfy outgrowing needs, scientists have begun to blend two or more of these together and went further to test that in different conditions to make every possibility come true. Hitherto, scientists learned many marvellous properties of matter, created a great hierarchy of the technology and developed a clearer picture of the future world. Currently we are in the middle of road to the future of our hope; many ideas that are floating around for a better version of the world are yet to be solidified. Needless to say, scientists are working towards it. Present essay is aimed to discuss about the current progress in research regarding a few breakthrough advancements in technology and scientific discoveries posed to change the world.
1.1 One of the promising areas to revolutionize the world is nanotechnology. National Nanotechnology Initiative defies nanotechnology as the manipulation of matter with at least one dimension sized from 1 to 100 nanometres. To gain expertize in the field we first need to understand the nanostructures found in the nature. There are several natural examples available which can be imitated and applied such as plant ATP synthesis mechanism, biological bulk transport mechanism, and biological motors. Machines that are based on the principle of nanotechnology are generally known as molecular or nano machines. According to an article in the journal Accounts of Chemical Research, molecular machine is an assemblage of parts that transmit forces, motion, or energy from one to another in a predetermined manner. There are efforts going on to develop a nano machine which would be capable enough to produce a controllable work.
1.2 In 2016, a trio was awarded a Nobel Prize in Chemistry for successfully developing a design of molecular machines1. Jean-Pierre Sauvage was the one who developed a first molecular structure with a mechanical interlocking. In 1983, He with his research group could be able to create a mechanical bond between two molecular rings, for that purpose they used a copper ion which provided a cohesive force that held molecules together. Researchers could then remove the ion after the link in between the rings has established. Thus, they formed a unit part of a chain that can further be modified into various structures with creation of complex interlocking. After less than a decade, chemist Fraser Stoddart with his research group successfully threaded an electron deficient molecular ring onto a molecular axle which had electron rich structures in two places. When heat is added, the ring jumps between electron rich areas in controlled manner. This can be served as a nano shutter as the ring moves forward and backward between the electron rich areas which has many potential applications such as in nano cameras and controlling devices. Another progress on the same line was made by Ben Feringa who successfully designed the first molecular motor that rotates only in one direction. The two blades of the motor are formed by flat chemical structures connected with double bond between two carbon atoms. With the application of UV light, one blade jumped 180o whereas methyl group attached to each blade acts as ratchet which prevents reverse action. Another pulse induces another jump of 180o. In this manner unidirectional rotary motion is achieved.
1.3 Inventions mentioned above was the foundation laid down by the trio towards the world of nano-structure. These could possibly work as an embryo of the future nano machines which would be sufficiently capable to handle different meticulous tasks that would otherwise be impossible with human hands. There are numerous ideas to explore and experiment with in order to expand the world miniaturization. For example, to develop nano syringe with a pumping mechanism to inject fluids inside tiny unreachable areas, to create zip mechanism for sealing torn parts at nano scale, nano bridges to fill up the gaps and so on. Possibilities have no end. The applications of such gadgets can be ranged from medicine to defence.
1.4 Human-like robots have always been awe inspiring topic. In my view, the invigoration of that resides in the fabrication of detailed micro-system that runs with the help of motors generating mechanical work by the consumption of energy. Energy can either be in forms of photons or phonons. A photon is an elementary particle, the quantum of an electromagnetic field e.g. electromagnetic radiation such as light whereas a phonon is a quantum of energy or a quasiparticle associated with compressional waves such as sound or vibrations of the atoms. Light is the carrier of photons while sound waves such as ultrasonic waves and heat are carriers of phonons. When energy waves are added, in response motor produces a motion or power which can be transformed into work. Feringa’s molecular motor represents one of such examples.
1.5 Often times, engine and motor and interchangeable concepts. Researchers at the University of Cambridge have developed a nano engine named as ‘Ant’ which can be powered by light2. The model consists of a polymer gel on which tiny gold particles are bounded. On the action of laser, gel gets heated and shrinks by expelling water. This causes all the gold particles to come together as a tight cluster. After laser is turned off, the gel reabsorbs water, expands and pushes apart all the gold particle. This process reportedly generates a tremendous amount of energy. Study co-author Dr. Ventsislav Valev said “we know that light can heat up water to power steam engines, but now we can use light to power a piston engine at the nanoscale.” Such nano engines can be fixed inside automated nano machines to enter the biological cells for medical purposes. So it can be said that, nanotechnology has a vast scope in the field of medicine. Apart from this, nano engines can be used to power nano manufacturers to produce various types of products at nanoscales.
2.1 Nano machines can have a range of applications in association with variety of materials. For instance, nano welders would be handy to solder broken areas of solid materials at an extreme precision, can be used as a nano sewer for a two dimensional fabric. World’s first two dimensional and today’s most revolutionary material is called as graphene. The story of how graphene was created as narrated by the Independent goes like this: Two Russian scientists at the University of Manchester, Andrei Geim and Kostya Novoselov, were playing about with flakes of carbon graphite in an attempt to investigate its electrical properties when they decided to see if they could make thinner flakes with the help of sticky Scotch tape. They used a tape to peel off a layer of graphite from its block and then repeatedly peeled off further layers from the original cleaved flake until they managed to get down to flakes that were only a few atoms thick. They soon realised that by repeatedly sticking and peeling back the Scotch tape they could get down to the thinnest of all possible layers, one atom thick – a material with unique and immensely interesting properties3.
2.2 Graphene has such potential that it can virtually replace or make a part of almost every material around us. It has a honeycomb structure of carbon atoms permeable to the water vapours but blocks atoms of other elements. Graphene has a good electric and heat conductivity. It is flexible with 200 times stronger than steel by weight and as much as 6 times lighter. It is almost transparent and also exhibits remarkable quantum properties.
2.3 Qualities of graphene can be exploited in combination with other material as a composite, desired properties can be forged in such a way. For example graphene reinforced with carbon nanotubes becomes a good composite to take under consideration for the matter of toughness. Owing to its strength, graphene products may one day replace the steel if we somehow manage to make it suitable for commercialisation. We can use the graphene layer as a sandwich in between two layers of other materials to achieve enough hardness for moulding. Other way of exploiting the graphene is sewing its pieces with that of other two dimensional material in an alternative manner to bring variant effect on the resultant fabric.
2.4 Single layer of Graphene can also be shaped in various geometries to strengthen its mechanical properties. MIT scientists have developed one of such geometry to transform 2D Graphene material into 3D one. It is reported that the structure is lightweight and 10 times stronger than steel4. The structure however can’t be employed in heavy applications such as in cars and buildings but only where the strength and lightweight is required. The structure resembles a Nerf ball with many holes and curves. Some researchers have combined graphene and aerogel together to give rise to a product lighter even than air, which is useful in case of mopping and cleaning. There are some efforts going on at the University of Manchester with regard to the nano calligraphy on graphene in order to create an extreme miniaturisation of chemical and biological sensors by adopting a particular technology akin to writing with a quill or fountain pen. As per the techniques, very small droplets of chemicals are delivered on the surface of Graphene. Scientists say, the techniques are key to enabling graphene sensors which can be used in real-world applications5.
3.1 There are two types of materials, first those who allow flow of electrons through it are called as conductors and second those who fully restrict the flow are insulators. The other property that observed in some materials at temperature relatively lower than the room temperature is superconductivity means such materials provide no resistance to the flow of electrons passing through it when material is maintained at a particular temperature. The recent high temperature superconducting material was found to be mercury barium calcium copper oxide at around 133 K6. There is currently no evidence of materials that acts as superconductors at room temperature.
3.2 Superconductivity arises in the material when all the restrictions that happen due to atomic vibrations and impurities is removed. Atomic vibrations can be eliminated to the farthest extent with the help of cooling; that’s why the materials generally exhibit superconducting properties when cooled to as low temperature as possible. For the removal of impurities, rubbing and brushing over the material may prove to be helpful.
3.3 There are numerous advantages of this property since it provides zero resistance to the flow of electrons or in other words electrons are more easily lose and gain between the atoms, we can build computers of very high processing speed, highly efficient energy storage devices, high performance electronic gadgets and conduction of electricity with no loss of energy can be accomplished. If we introduce a free electron into a ring of superconducting material with an applied potential difference then it will continue to flow relentlessly creating a magnetic field around it.
3.4 The magnetism produced due to superconductivity has potential applications in all the micro to macro levels. Magnetic levitation used in Maglev trains with the use of superconductivity has always been the subject of awe to the entire railway industry.
3.5 Breakthrough would be the discovery of material exhibiting the property of superconductivity at least in the range of 0-20oC. Synthetic technique to form such a material with a definite chemical formula with the help of chemistry can be possible abiding the governing principle of superconductivity. With this regard, polymerisation may constitute a major process in converting a small formulation to the large scale.
Nanotechnology, graphene and superconductivity carry their won specialities. With fair combination of three of them world can usher into the next Industrial Revolution.
1. How molecules became machines. http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/chemistry/laureates/2016/popular-chemistryprize2016.pdf
2. World’s tiniest nano-engine is powered by LIGHT: ‘Ant’ device is so small it could one day enter living cells to fight disease. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3569743/World-s-tiniest-nano-engine-powered-LIGHT-Ant-device-small-one-day-enter-living-cells-fight-disease.html
3. The graphene story: how Andrei Geim and Kostya Novoselov hit on a scientific breakthrough that changed the world…by playing with sticky tape.http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/the-graphene-story-how-andrei-geim-and-kostya-novoselov-hit-on-a-scientific-breakthrough-that-8539743.html
4. Researchers design one of the strongest, lightest materials known. http://news.mit.edu/2017/3-d-graphene-strongest-lightest-materials-0106
5. Nano-calligraphy on graphene.http://www.manchester.ac.uk/discover/news/nano-calligraphy-on-graphene
6. High-temperature superconductivity.http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-temperature_superconductivity