This article deals with ‘Nanotechnology.’ This is part of our series on ‘Science and Technology’ which is important pillar of GS-3 syllabus . For more articles , you can click here


  • Nanometer = 10^-9 (one billionth of matter) . At this level, material starts to display special physical & biological properties
  • Nanoscale = 1 to 100 nanometres 
  • Nanotechnology is manipulation of materials at nanoscale (1-100 nm), in order to  exploit properties that differ significantly from those on a larger scale

What happens at Nano-scale ?

  • Very High Surface Area to Volume Ratio
  • Particles start to follow Quantum Physics (instead of Newtonian Physics)


  • Concept was given by Nobel laureate physicist Richard P Feynman in 1959 . He said two things
    • Encyclopedia of whole world can be shown on the tip of needle
    • There is a lot of space in the bottom

His whole research was inspired from human body . He observed that whole of information about human body is stored in DNA (of the size 10^-9) , RBCs which transport oxygen is of nano size too etc. Hence , he held that nano-products if made will be more efficient

  • Large information about Nanotechnology was presented by Norio Taniguchi in 1974. He made first nano-objects and told world about the real uses of nanotechnology.

How it is better than traditional techniques

  • Problem of Size : Objects made with Traditional Approach are large in size and hence wasteful 
  • Impact on environment : Traditional Approach impacts environment and body negatively. Eg : Global Warming after Industrialization & negative impact of medicines on body.
  • Problem of Efficiency : Energy that can be utilised from traditional objects is just 10% of total energy present. In Nanotechnology, efficiency can go upto 100% .
  • Expensive : Due to large size of traditional objects, they are expensive.

Nanotechnology addresses all the above problems

Stages of Nano-Technology

Four Stages of

First Stage Aka Inactive Nanotechnology Stage
Nano Products made during this stage don’t play any active role
Eg : Nanogel, Nanopolymer, Nanometals etc were produced in this stage.

This stage was operational till 2005   Nanometals show such properties which are completely different from traditional metallic objects of same metal. Eg : Nano-Aluminium (alumium particles broken to nano-scale) can be used as fuel as well which is not possible with ordinary Aluminium.
Second Stage Aka Active Nanotechnology Stage
Nanoproducts made in this stage play active role
Eg : Targeted Nano-medicines, transistors etc . This stage was operational till 2010  
Third Stage Nanoproducts made in this stage were 3 Dimensional
Eg : Nanomachines, Nanobots etc This stage was operational till 2015  
Fourth Stage Aka Molecular Nanotechnology Stage
Nanoproducts made during this stage are  molecules important for human use .

Eg : DNA, RNA, Protiens, Enzymes etc
– Artificial Gene was made in this stage .
– Enzyme was made which has ability to transform nitrogen to nitrate . If commercially developed, it will end the use of Urea as this enzyme can convert nitrogen in air and field to nitrate  

We are living in fourth stage of nanotechnology

Two Approaches of Nanotechnology

Nanoproducts can be made in two ways

Top to Down Approach In this technique, large particles are converted to nano-particles by dividing it again and again till we reach Nano-Levels .
– First and Second Stage nano-products can be made with this approach
Bottom Up Approach Particles at Quantum level are manipulated to convert them to Nano-products like Nanorobots , Nanomedicines etc
Nanoproducts of 3rd and 4th generations are made in this

Applications of Nanotechnology

1 . Graphene

2. Fullerene

  • This is considered third form of Carbon. Most popular Fullerene is C-60 or Buckminster Fullerene
  • They have football type shape
  • Main use
    • Lubricant to reduce friction in machines
    • Act as anti-oxidant in the human body by neutralizing free radicals
    • They help in neutralizing Ozone Damaging pollutants

3. Medicine

  • Quantum Dots-  The dots are nanoparticles which  tightly confine electrons (or holes) in all three spatial dimensions which can be activated by radiation . Special Features of Quantum dots based therapy
    • Targeted tissue damage: they can be used to target specified location by attaching proteins or other polymers 
    • Activated by Light : When they reach their location, they can activated by light activating tightly confined electron.
  • Therapy techniques where nano-sponges, freely flow in the bloodstream and attract toxins to themselves. 
  • Drug Delivery & efficient use of drug
  • Nanobots for target based therapy
  • Dabur made Nanogel which can destroy cancerous cells

4. Military

  • Military Nanobots
  • Smart dust may be employed for stealth monitoring of hostile environment .Eg: verification of the enemy whereabouts from their movements

5. Water Treatment

  • Nano-membranes for water purification, desalination, and detoxification
  • Nano-sensors for the detection of contaminants and pathogens

6. Environment

  • Combating Carbon Emission :  The researchers have developed nanoCO2 harvester which can suck CO2 from the atmosphere and convert it into methanol 
  • Swarms of nano robots shall sweep oceans disassembling pollutants to protect the marine environment
  • Cleaning Water & Combating water pollution  :  magnetically charged nano-particles can adsorb heavy metals and dyes from the water bodies  .

7. Textiles

  • Clothes that clean themselves :  Being developed by group of researchers at Monash University ,Australia . 
  • Fluorescent nano particles used to provide range of visible colours in a single dye

8. Computer

  • Will enable creation of new generation of computer components capable of storing trillions of bytes of information in size of sugar cube
  • Help developing compact robots which can perform the delicate human functions

9. Automobiles

  • Toyota has been using nano composites in bumpers that are less heavy & twice resistance to scratching
  • Due to high surface area, they have been used in the automotive catalytic converters

10. Nanorobotics

  • Technology of creating robots or nanomachines at microscopic scale or atleast very close to that . 

11. Agriculture

  • Nano pesticides: Nano pesticides are pheromones  that lure insects to either trap and destroy them . Even small amount is very effective.
  • Nano sensors: are used to detect pathogens & take proper remedial measures thereafter

Side Topic : Nano-Fertiliser

  • India’s first Nano-Fertilizer has been made by Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture (CRIDA) , Jodhpur
  • By Dr Tarafdar
  • It is an enzyme that can convert atmospheric nitrogen to nitrate
  • If it is commercialized, it can reduce Indian dependence on import of fertilizers from outside and also reduce cost of production of farmers + End eutrophication and water pollution done by fertilizers


  • Study of the toxicity of nano materials

Toxicological Issues with Nano-Materials

  • Because of quantum size effects & large surface area to volume ratioNano-materials , even when made of inert elements like gold, are highly active
  • May be very dangerous because of its size. They can float in air  & might easily penetrate into animal & plant cells
  • Most human made nano-particles don’t appear in nature & living organisms may not have appropriate means to deal with them

Nanotoxicological studies are intended to determine whether & to what extent these properties may pose threat to environment & to human beings

Guidelines for Safe Handling of Nano Materials has been issued by the Government giving standard operating procedure (SOP) for handling nano-materials 

Issues with Nanotechnology

Toxicity Dealt Above  
Ethical Issues Where to mark the boundary to the use of Nanotechnology because 
1. Nanotechnology may be used in warfare
2. May invade people’s privacy
Governance Issue Nanotechnology is an interdisciplinary field. How to regulate such a sector is a problem
Nano – Divide Nanotechnology will bring ‘technological tsunami ‘ which would exacerbate the division between rich and poor known as Nano-Divide
Relationship between developed & under developed Countries Properties at the nano-scale may be used to imitate the properties of rare minerals, thus affecting the export rates of their main producers
Human Resource Issues A developing country such as India may struggle to find quality human resource, esp. in an emerging field which requires cutting edge research.

Nanotechnology & India

  • CNR Rao is known as Father of Nanotech in India

11th Five Year Plan & Nano Mission

  • In 11th Five Year Plan (FYP) , under the leadership of CNR RAO, Nano Mission was started in India and ₹1000 crore were allocated for this mission.
  • Nano Mission of India has following targets  (BaLHrI)
    • Promotion of basic research in Nanotechnology
    • Developing laboratories for Nanotechnology
    • Training and Developing human resources in Nanotechnology
    • International Collaboration in Nanotechnology

As a result of this Mission, India in 2013-14 became the country from where 3rd largest number of research papers were published  .

Research papers were published in diverse fields like Nanomedicine, Nanogold, Nanofilter papers, Nanosilver sheet etc

12th Five Year Plan

  • 12th FYP considered Nanotechnology to be expensive technique and reduced the funding in this
  • Rs. 650 crores earmarked for Nano Technology 
  • Government has specifically asked to do application-oriented R&D in nanotechnology (instead of merely going for research papers) 

Nano Mission is still active as part of IMPRINT II program

Outcomes of Nano Mission

Basic Research In 2013-14 , India published 3rd largest number of papers on Nanotechnology.
Labs 7 Centers for Nano Technology in IITs and other institutes have been established
Human Resource Development Support for Post Doctoral Fellowships
Organizing national and international conferences
International Collaborations With various countries
1. US : On projects in Carbon Nanotubes
2. Germany : On Nano-composites used in Automobiles
Public Private Partnerships Various PPP signed  

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