Applications of incorporated nanotechnology have the potential to revolutionize how the world uses and views even the simplest objects—including paper. In a recent publication of the academic journal Nanotechnology Dr. Anna Demming commented on how the rapidly advancing fields of nanotechnology and nanoscience will in the not-so-distant future allow manufacturers to print cutting edge electronic technology directly onto a single page.
Nanoscience and nanotechnology refer to the theoretical and applications-based study of extremely small things. As the name implies, these small objects are measured on the scale of nanometers—or 1 x 10 -9 meters (0.000000001 meters). Such a scale is over a thousand times smaller than human cells (which are measured in micrometers, or 0.000001 meters). Nanotechnology addresses the complex formation and configuration of dynamic molecules such as DNA, enzymes, and even completely new molecules that were designed by humans.
A cornerstone event in the nanotechnology’s history was Richard Feynman’s famous 1959 talk entitled “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom”. However the concepts of modern nanotechnology did not arise until 1981 when Professor Norio Taniguchi from the Tokyo Science University described new, ultra-precise methods for manufacturing semiconductor devices. This work introduced and popularized the term “nanotechnology.”
Nanotechnology has a seemingly endless array of potential applications. With science’s current understanding and abilities, nanotechnology can and has been applied to developments in tumor therapy, agriculture, the dairy industry, holograms, electronics, and gene targeting. The precision of the molecules engineered with nanotechnology allows for the more effective use of fewer materials. In addition special considerations can be given to how these molecules can be manufactured and broken down after use. Consequently nanotechnology has been heralded as offering incredible potential for creating versatile, economic, and environmentally friendly products.
One fast-developing sector of nanotechnology is in paper. Paper is especially useful in creating flexible electronics for a number of reasons. Practically speaking, the light weight nature, inexpensive production costs, and well-established production methods make it ubiquitous and economical to use. In addition, a growing demand for green technology also favors paper because of how it poses a minimal threat to the environment and can be both recycled and renewed.
Researchers and engineers are currently investigating ways to incorporate nanotechnology onto and into paper electronics using standard screen or ink-jet printing. Using these established techniques, it would be possible to integrate circuits or microcontrollers directly onto paper. Already this technology has been successfully applied by researchers in Korea to screen print basic number displays that can be activated by different temperatures and operating voltages. Still others have created paper-based super-capacitors, DNA hybridization recognition technology, and sensors for toxic gas detection and breathalyzers.
Mainstream use of paper electronics with incorporated nanotechnology is still a ways off into the future. However in the last decade progress in the field has been greatly stimulated by advancements in thin film deposition and organic materials. However the promise of electronics integrated into or printed out on paper has attracted significant international attention. Therefore, though still a ways off, one should not be surprised if in the future even ordinary sheets of paper are given a technological upgrade.
By Sarah Takushi
Institute of Food Technologies
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