Unbeknownst to most people, nanotechnology is today used in an astounding number of ways. In this, the 3rd part of the series, today's uses of nanotechnology are discussed, including the top uses of nanotechnology in developing countries.
This is the 3rd article in the series "Understanding the Global Risks and Benefits of Nanotechnology".
Uses and Benefits of Nanotechnology
Though there are far too many potential applications for nanotechnology to mention them all explicitly, the following sections give a simplistic picture of how nanotechnology will likely affect society. It is important to recognize these benefits in order to place the importance of nanotechnology in the proper context. The following sections provide very brief (and by no means complete) descriptions and examples of how nanotechnology may be used. The benefits listed here are generally considered very likely – more futuristic, incredible applications are not discussed here.
Because the basis of nanotechnology is at the sub-molecular level, it is applicable to almost every discipline of science and as a result its applications are extremely widespread. One of the primary ways that nanotechnology will be used is in consumer goods. Currently, nanotechnology is claimed to be used in more than 500 products already on shelves at retail stores. Sunglasses use nanoparticles as protective coatings on lenses. Textile manufactures have employed nanotechnology to create more windproof, waterproof, and wrinkle-resistant fabrics. Tennis balls have inner cores coated with nanocomposites resulting in twice the lifetime of conventional balls. Sunscreens and cosmetics use nanoparticles to increase translucence (letting more light pass through) while maintaining UV protection. These are just a few examples of how nanotechnology is currently being used, and there are many more not mentioned here.
Beyond consumer products, nanotechnology is envisioned to dramatically affect a number of fields. One of the most promising areas, which has already begun to see significant breakthroughs, is pharmaceutical and biomedical applications. New drug delivery mechanisms are being developed to allow drugs to more effectively target specific types of cells. Researchers recently used (organic) nanoparticles soaked with the chemotherapy drug docetaxel to target prostate cancer cells in mice. The nanoparticles selectively attached themselves to cancer cells and released the chemotherapy drug, destroying the cancer cells while leaving nearby healthy cells unaffected. This technique was considered very successful and could eventually be used in humans to deliver chemotherapy treatment to humans without the toxicity effects. Scientists also recently used nanotechnology to restore the sight in hamsters with severed optical nerves. Nanostructures were used as a scaffold to bridge the gap in the severed optical nerve, allowing the nerve to re-grow across the scaffold. This kind of brain regeneration could have significant applications for humans – to help stroke victims recover, for example.
Energy & Environment
Other areas of great potential benefit to societies are renewable energy storage, water purification, and antipollution devices. Batteries which use carbon nanotubes are being developed to create super-efficient storage devices with intended uses in automobiles. Nanotechnology promises to cheaply and efficiently remove harmful pollutants from water, detect contaminants in food and water, and detect hazardous airborne biological and chemical components. Nanotechnology will also increase the efficiency of existing energy technologies such as solar power. Many of these advancements will be tremendous. For example, a battery developed by A123 systems uses carbon nanotubes to increase the capacitance of the battery. The result is a battery with the power of a standard electrical outlet and a 90% recharge time of only five minutes.
Electronics and Communications
One of the most profitable uses for nanotechnology will be its use in electronic devices and computers. Data storage and processor speeds will be increased drastically and at the same time electronics will become smaller, lighter, and use cheaper and more abundant materials. There are numerous applications for consumer electronics – ranging from improved optics in cameras to higher-contrast televisions.
Chemicals and Materials
Materials and textiles will use nanotechnology to increase chemical resistance, durability, and strength. Nanoparticles often exhibit increased reactivity, also giving them applications as chemical catalysts.
New manufacturing techniques will evolve to manipulate matter at the atomic level, possibly evolving into the manufacturing of complex parts from the atom up. Also, nanotechnology will enable more precise instrumentation and measurement.
National Security and Defense
There is significant potential for nanotechnology to be used to make weapons lighter, more durable, more accurate, and more efficient. Nanotechnology will be used in applications ranging from vastly improved weapon electronic and computer systems to super-materials used in armor. Some of the more productive uses for military nanotechnology include the "lab-on-a-chip" – a sensor suite designed onto a chip the size of a finger nail that could be carried by every soldier to detect chemical and biological weapons. Nanotechnology may also be used to protect soldiers from chemical weapons; improve the weight, coverage, and effectiveness of body armor; and provide non-explosive energy storage for soldiers to reduce secondary explosions. It will also significantly change the capability (and deadliness) of weapons and other military systems. This could have significant international political implications and is discussed further in the Risks and Societal Concerns section.
In addition to those benefits and uses listed above, there are also applications of nanotechnology that will specifically help developing countries. The Canadian Program for Genomics and Global Health (CPGGH) conducted a study to determine what applications will most greatly help people of developing countries. The results and brief description are provided in the following section. 
Top Ten Applications in Developing Countries
Nanotechnology enables more efficient solar cells, hydrogen fuel cells, and other energy storage systems to reduce dependence on petroleum and polluting fuels.
More efficient delivery of herbicides and nutrients; nanosensors to monitor soil conditions; removal of soil contaminants
3. Water treatment
Inexpensive, portable means of purifying and detoxifying water
4. Disease diagnosis and screening
Increased inexpensive disease diagnosis; medical image enhancement
5. Drug delivery systems
Nanotechnology enhances slow, sustained, targeted drug delivery
6. Food processing and storage
Nanotechnology for decontamination; detection of contamination
7. Air pollution and remediation
Detection of toxic materials, degradation of air pollutants using light; more efficient and cheaper catalytic converters
Cheaper and more durable housing and materials; self-cleaning surfaces; more water-resistant concrete and asphalt
9. Health monitoring
Monitoring of physiological levels such as cholesterol, glucose, and others without drawing blood
10. Vector and pest detection and control
Pest detection, improved pesticides, insecticides and repellents
Other Societal Benefits
In addition to the benefits that will stem from the direct application of nanotechnology, there are several secondary effects that will benefit societies. Due to the rapid growth of nanotechnology, significant job growth should ensue. Based on the $1 trillion projection for the nanotechnology industry by 2015, it is estimated that about 2 million workers will be needed. If the IT industry is used as a template, it can be expected that for each of these workers, about 2.5 jobs are created in related areas, bringing the total number of estimated nanotech workers to 7 million.
Another potential benefit is that nanotechnology naturally bridges scientific disciplines because it is so scientifically fundamental in nature. It will have implications in physics, chemistry, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, biology, environmental sciences, and many others. This means that previously diverging disciplines will be brought together, increasing communication across sciences. This will likely increase understanding of how development of different technologies affects other sciences. It will increase cooperation and efficiency of development by involving many disciplines. It will also provide greater integration of scientific principles into education.
 Rejeski, David and Macoubrie, Jane. Informed Public Perceptions of Nanotechnology and Trust in Government. Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Sept. 2005: pg 1.
 Allianz. Opportunities and risks of Nanotechnologies. dataoecd/4/38/35081968.pdf> (5/1/06): pg 12-13.
 "Nanotechnology Zaps Prostate Tumor Cells." Forbes.com. /www.forbes.com/lifestyle/health/feeds/hscout/2006/04/11/hscout532037.html> (4/11/06).
 "Nanotech helps blind hamsters see." BBC News Online. /news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/4801728.stm> (3/14/06).
 A123 Systems. /www.a123systems.com/html/technology.html> (5/1/06).
 Allianz. Supra note 9. pg 13.
 Ratner, Daniel and Ratner, Mark A. Nanotechnology and Homeland Security. New Jersey: Pearson Education Inc., 2004: pg 39.
 Id. pg 43-66.
 CPGGH. "Nanotechnology and the developing world" April 2005. /www.utoronto.ca/jcb/home/documents/PLoS_nanotech.pdf> (5/2/06): pg e97.
 Roco. Supra note 6. pg 182.
 Roco, Mihail C. and Renn, O. "Nanotechnology and the need for risk governance" Journal of Nanoparticle Research. (2006): pg 3 of article.