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


  • Nanometre literally means 10^-9 (one billionth of matter). At this level, the material starts to display unique physical & biological properties.
  • Nanoscale operates at the scale of 1 to 100 nanometres.  
  • Nanotechnology is the manipulation of materials at the Nanoscale (1-100 nm) 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).


  • The concept was given by Nobel laureate physicist Richard P Feynman in 1959. He said two things 
    • Encyclopedia of the whole world can be shown on the tip of a needle.
    • There is a lot of space at the bottom.
  • The human body inspired his whole research. He observed that whole information about the human body is stored in DNA, RBCs that transport oxygen is of nano size, etc. Hence, he held that nanoproducts, if made, will be more efficient.
  • Norio Taniguchi presented large information about Nanotechnology in 1974. He made the first nano-objects and told the world about the real uses of nanotechnology.

How it is better than traditional techniques?

  • The problem of Size: Objects made with the Traditional Approach are large and hence wasteful.
  • Impact on the environment: Traditional Approach impacts the environment and body negatively. E.g., Global Warming after Industrialization & adverse effects of medicines on body. 
  • Problem of Efficiency: Energy that can be utilised from traditional objects has an efficiency of just 10%. In Nanotechnology, efficiency can go up to 100%.
  • Expensive: Due to the large size of traditional objects, they are expensive. 

Nanotechnology addresses all the above problems.

Stages of Nano-Technology

Till 2005 
Till 2010 
Till 2015 

Four Stages of

First Stage

  • The first phase is also known as the Inactive Nanotechnology Stage 
  • Nano Products made during this stage don’t play an active role.
  • E.g., Nanogel, Nano polymer, Nano metals etc., were produced in this stage. 
  • This stage was operational till 2005.

Nano metals show properties that are entirely different from traditional metallic objects of the same metal. E.g., Nano-Aluminium (aluminium particles broken to Nanoscale) can be used as fuel, which is not possible with ordinary Aluminium.

Second Stage

  • The second phase is also known as the Active Nanotechnology Stage.
  • Nanoproducts made in this stage play an active role.
  • E.g., Targeted Nano-medicines, transistors etc.
  • This stage was operational till 2010.

Third Stage

  • Nanoproducts made in this stage were 3 Dimensional 
  • E.g., Nanomachines, Nanobots etc.
  • This stage was operational till 2015.

Fourth Stage

  • The fourth stage is also known as Molecular Nanotechnology Stage.
  • Nanoproducts made during this stage are molecules important for human use. 
  • E.g., DNA, RNA, Proteins, Enzymes etc.
    • Artificial Gene was made in this stage. 
    • The enzyme was made, which can transform nitrogen into 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 the fourth stage of nanotechnology

Two Approaches of Nanotechnology

Nanoproducts can be made in two ways

1. Top to Down Approach

  • In this technique, large particles are converted to nanoparticles by dividing them again and again till we reach Nano-Levels. 
  • First and Second Stage nanoproducts can be made with this approach. 

2. Bottom Up Approach

  • Particles at the Quantum level are manipulated to convert them to Nanoproducts like Nanorobot, Nanomedicines etc. 
  • Nanoproducts of 3rd and 4th generations are made in this.

Applications of Nanotechnology

1. Graphene

  • Graphene is the nanoproduct of Carbon.
  • Dealt in detail in other article (CLICK HERE).

2. Fullerene

  • Fullerene is considered the third form of Carbon. Most popular Fullerene is C-60 or Buckminster Fullerene.
  • They have a football shape.
  • Main use 
    • Lubricant to reduce friction in machines. 
    • Act as an antioxidant in the human body by neutralising free radicals.
    • They help in neutralising the pollutants that damage the Ozone layer.

3. Medicine

3.1 Quantum Dots

  • he quantum dots are nanoparticles that tightly confine electrons (or holes) in all three spatial dimensions, which can be activated by radiation. 
  • Special features of Quantum dots based therapy are 
    • Targeted tissue damage: They can be used to target specified locations by attaching proteins or other polymers.  
    • Activated by Light: When they reach their location, they can be activated by light activating tightly confined electrons.

Applications of Quantum Dots

  • Target-based therapy: It doesn’t damage nearby healthy tissues & cells.
  • Quantum Dots can even kill superbugs that have become resistant to antibiotics.   
  • It can be used in the treatment of cancer by destroying tumour cells. 
Quantum Dots

But extensive clinical trials are required to begin using quantum dots in routine treatment procedures.

3.2 Other Applications

  • Therapy techniques where nanosponges freely flow in the bloodstream and attract toxins to themselves. 
  • Nanobots can be used the target-based therapy.
  • Dabur has made Nanogel which can destroy cancerous cells.
  • Gene Sequencing: Nanodevices such as gold nanoparticles can be used to sequence DNA.

But most of the technology is still in the testing phase. As a result, we need more understanding before actually deploying nanomedicine on a commercial scale.

4. Military

  • Military Nanobots: Military Nanobots can perform works such as nano-drones, NextGen uniforms etc., for the military.
  • Smart dust may be employed for stealth monitoring of hostile environments. E.g., verification of the enemy’s whereabouts from their movements. 

5. Water Treatment

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

6. Environment

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

7. Textiles

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

8. Computer

  • Nanotechnology will enable the creation of a new generation of computer components capable of storing trillions of bytes of information in the size of a sugar cube.
  • Help develop compact robots which can perform delicate human functions. 

9. Automobiles

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

10. Nanorobotics

  • Nanotechnology is the technology of creating robots or nanomachines at a microscopic scale or at least very close to that.  

11. Agriculture

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

Side Topic: Nano-Fertiliser

  • India’s first Nano-Fertiliser has been made by Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture (CRIDA), Jodhpur.
  • Dr Tarafdar has developed the technology.
  • It is an enzyme that can convert atmospheric nitrogen to nitrate. 
  • If it is commercialised, it can reduce Indian dependence on the import of fertilisers from outside and reduce the cost of production of farmers. It can also help in ending eutrophication and water pollution done by fertilisers. 


Nanotoxicology is the study of the toxicity of nanomaterials.

Toxicological Issues with Nano Materials

  • Because of quantum size effects & large surface area to volume ratio, nanomaterials are highly active even when made of inert elements like gold.
  • It may be hazardous because of its size as it can float in the air & might easily penetrate animal & plant cells.
  • Most human-made nanoparticles 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 a threat to the environment & human beings.

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

Issues with Nanotechnology

1. Toxicity

  • Dealt Above

2. Ethical Issues

The ethical question is where to mark the boundary to the use of Nanotechnology because  

  • Nanotechnology may be used in warfare
  • Nanotechnology may invade people’s privacy

3. Governance Issue

  • Nanotechnology is an interdisciplinary field. Hence, regulating such a sector is a problem. 

4. Nano-Divide

  • Nanotechnology will bring a ‘technological tsunami‘ that would exacerbate the division between rich and poor known as Nano-Divide. 

5. Relationship between developed & underdeveloped Countries

  • Properties at the Nanoscale may be used to imitate the properties of rare minerals, thus affecting the export rates of their main producers. 

6. Human Resource Issues

  • A developing country such as India may struggle to find quality human resources, especially in an emerging field that requires cutting-edge research.

Nanotechnology & India

CNR Rao is known as the Father of Nanotech in India.

11th FYB & Nano Mission

  • In the 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 the following targets
    • 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, Nano filter papers, Nanosilver sheet etc.

12th FYP

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

Nano Mission is still active as part of the IMPRINT II program. 

Other Steps

1. Laboratories

  • 7 Centres for Nano Technology in IITs and other institutes have been opened.

2. International Collaborations

India has signed MoUs with various countries to develop nanotechology. These include

  • US: On projects in Carbon Nanotubes
  • Germany: On Nano-composites used in Automobiles

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