Wednesday, October 28, 2009

“Nanotechnology will not compete with nature”

As chairman of the scientific advisory council to the prime minister and the national nano mission council, and honorary president & linus pauling research professor at the jawaharlal nehru centre for advanced scientific research, professor cnr rao’s credentials as the father of indian nanotechnology are far from ‘nano’. the pragmatist’s views on the futurists’ fancies…

Do you agree with Ray Kurzweil when he suggests that in the future, nanobots will substitute for RBCs, and bionic hearts will perform critical functions, and that “we can look forward to a world where humans become cyborgs, with artificial limbs and organs"?

I do not believe nanoworld is a fantasy world. It will be based on high science and technology. One should not therefore create a picture of a world where the functions of the heart or blood will all be replaced by something nano. I think that we will have technologies similar to what we have today except that they will be miniaturised. We would have transistors which are extremely small and computers which are very tiny. The main thing is that we will be using very tiny materials and tiny devices to accomplish the same objective. We will probably use nanotechnology in nanomedicine, medical imaging and such applications.

Nanotechnology sounds like competition to nature; is it a good thing or a bad thing?

Nanotechnology will not compete with nature. This is a completely wrong idea. I have been doing research in this area for more than twenty years; I have not seen any occasion where I have to think of something that would compete with nature. In fact, we will borrow ideas from nature to do things in the laboratory. For example, nature has always used the concept of self-assembly and we use the same concept in nanotechnology.

In brief, what is the role of nanoscience in medicine? In what ways does nanoscience bear upon longevity/immortality?

In medicine, nanoscience and technology have many benefits. For example, in delivery of drugs we can use nano delivery systems, which will give slow release in small quantities as required medicine. In addition, gene delivery would be possible. More importantly, tissue engineering which will help in building new types of organs (which are lost or damaged) would have great applications. For example, if we can grow a new spinal cord or artificial skin, it would be wonderful. There are already applications of nanoparticles of silver and other materials in purification of water and also in creating bandages for burn victims.

The bandages have tiny nanoparticles of silver. Many semiconductor nanoparticles are used widely for biological tagging and in diagnostics.

I do not see nanoscience giving you immortality or longevity. Other things that we are doing in health sciences, medicine and other areas would improve our health. If human beings can live with discipline and use their mind and body properly, the lifespan would be extended. Nanotechnology may contribute to some extent, but will not be a main reason why humans will live longer.

Would nanotechnology be affordable by the masses?

Nanotechnology is affordable by all people. Already, there are many results of nanotechnology which are in common use.

For example, in textiles and cosmetics. Nanotechnology is routinely used in catalysis (in chemical industry) which produces millions of tons of materials used by everybody. When eventually transistors made up of nanotechnology will come about, everybody will use them. It is not as if only rich countries will have the benefit.

Would nanotechnology have to contend with moral and ethical concerns, much like abortion and stem cell research issues?

The main ethical concerns one has in nanotechnology relate to toxicological uses. We have to be careful and make sure that we do not work with free nanoparticles and nanotubes and such materials in open laboratories and elsewhere in such a way as to cause damage to health. Lot of research is being pursued on toxicological effects of nanomaterials. On the positive side, nature itself has large quantities of nanoparticles floating around, yet they do not seem to have caused much harm. I would certainly advise people not to eat nanotubes for breakfast and be careful in general. We should not use nanomaterials inside biological systems without knowing their toxicological effects. Use in other devices may not cause any harm.

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Source :
IIPM Editorial, 2009

An IIPM and Professor Arindam Chaudhuri (Renowned Management Guru and Economist) Initiative

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