Nanotechnology: Applications, Nanoparticles, Nanotechnology UPSC

By BYJU'S Exam Prep

Updated on: November 14th, 2023

Nanotechnology is a multidisciplinary field of science and technology that focuses on manipulating and controlling matter at the nanoscale, typically ranging from 1 to 100 nanometers. It involves the understanding, manipulation, and application of materials and devices at the atomic and molecular levels. Nanotechnology has revolutionized various industries by enabling the development of new materials, devices, and systems with enhanced properties and functionalities.

Nanotechnology is an important topic in the UPSC exam, particularly in the Science and Technology section of the UPSC Syllabus. It is crucial for aspirants to have a basic understanding of nanotechnology and its applications, as it finds relevance in various fields such as medicine, agriculture, energy, electronics, and materials science. Being aware of the principles, challenges, and potential impact of nanotechnology is essential to comprehend its significance in the context of national development, policy-making, and scientific advancements.


A structure, device, or system that is created, produced or used by manipulating atoms and molecules at the nanoscale, or having one or more dimensions of the order of 100 nanometers (100 millionths of a millimetre) or less, is referred to as Nanotechnology. The concept of manipulating matter at the nanoscale was first discussed by physicist Richard Feynman in his famous lecture titled “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom” in 1959. He envisioned the possibility of manipulating individual atoms and molecules to create new materials and devices. However, it was not until the 1980s and 1990s that significant breakthroughs in nanotechnology started to occur, with advancements in microscopy and fabrication techniques.

Feynman’s visionary ideas about manipulating atoms and molecules laid the foundation for the concept of nanotechnology. His insights sparked interest and further exploration in the field. In the late 1970s, Professor Norio Taniguchi introduced the term “nanotechnology” to describe the science and technology of manipulating materials at the nanoscale. This term provided a framework for researchers to delve into the possibilities of working at the atomic and molecular level. The development of the scanning tunneling microscope in 1981 revolutionized nanotechnology by enabling scientists to observe and manipulate individual atoms, leading to significant advancements and discoveries in the field.

Fundamentals of Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology is based on the fundamental understanding and manipulation of individual molecules and atoms, which are the building blocks of all matter. At the nanoscale, which is one billionth of a meter, remarkable properties and behaviors emerge. Here are some key fundamentals of nanotechnology:

  • Scale: Nanotechnology operates at the nanoscale, where dimensions are typically in the range of one to a few hundred nanometers. To put this into perspective, there are 25,400,000 nanometers in an inch.
  • Observation and Control: Atoms and molecules at the nanoscale are too small to be seen with conventional microscopes. The invention of advanced tools like the scanning tunneling microscope (STM) and atomic force microscope (AFM) in the early 1980s revolutionized nanotechnology by allowing scientists to observe and manipulate individual atoms.
  • Wide Applications: Nanotechnology has applications in various fields such as medicine, electronics, energy, materials science, and more. By exploiting the unique properties of nanomaterials, including their lighter weight, higher strength, and enhanced control of light, scientists can develop innovative solutions for diverse challenges.
  • Enhanced Properties: Nanoscale materials often exhibit different properties compared to their bulk counterparts. This can include increased chemical reactivity, improved electrical conductivity, enhanced optical properties, and superior mechanical strength. Such properties open up new possibilities for designing advanced materials and devices.
  • Interdisciplinary Nature: Nanotechnology is highly interdisciplinary, encompassing physics, chemistry, biology, materials science, and engineering. It requires collaboration between scientists and researchers from different fields to fully explore and harness the potential of nanoscale materials and technologies.

Applications of Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology has a wide range of applications across various sectors, revolutionizing industries and offering innovative solutions. Here are some key applications of nanotechnology:

  • Electronics: Nanotechnology has transformed the electronics industry by enabling the development of smaller, faster, and more efficient devices. Examples include Nano-RAM, a high-density memory based on carbon nanotubes, and Nano Optomechanical S-RAM, which provides faster read/write times compared to traditional memory technologies.
  • Healthcare and Medicine: Nanotechnology holds great promise in healthcare and medicine. It offers advanced tools for diagnostics, drug delivery, and treatment. Applications include nanotech detectors for heart attacks, nanochips to check plaque in arteries, nanocarriers for targeted drug delivery, NanoFlares for cancer cell detection, and nanosponges for toxin absorption.
  • Energy: Nanotechnology plays a crucial role in energy-related applications. It enables the development of more efficient element in solar cells, such as solar/photovoltaic paints, which can transform any surface into a power generator. Nanogenerators harness energy from motion, allowing for potential power generation. Nanobatteries enhance the performance and lifespan of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries.
  • Agriculture and Food: Nanotechnology is making significant contributions to agriculture and food sectors. It offers solutions for efficient nutrient delivery through nano fertilizers, reduces spoilage through the use of hybrid polymers in packaging, detects food-borne pathogens through nanosensors, and reduces bacteria in produce using nano-emulsions. Nanoparticles based on titanium dioxide are utilized as antimicrobial agents.

Nanotechnology in India

The R&D work on nanotechnology began in India in 2001 with the NanoScience and Technology Initiative with initial funding of Rs. 60 crores. In 2007, the GOI launched a 5-year program called Nano Mission with an allocation of a budget of Rs 1,000 crores. It had a wider scope of objectives and much larger funding. Fields involved in the mission were: basic research, infrastructure development, HRD, and global collaboration.

Several institutions, such as the IT Department, DRDO, Biotechnology, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), etc., were roped in for the work. National Centers for Nanofabrication and Nanoelectronics were established at IIT Bombay and IISc Bangalore.

Concerns Regarding Nanotechnology in India

Nanotechnology in India faces several key concerns that need to be addressed for its successful development and implementation:

  • Finance: India’s investment in nanotechnology research and development is significantly lower compared to leading countries like the USA, China, and Japan. Limited financial resources hinder the growth and progress of nanotechnology initiatives in India, impacting infrastructure development, research facilities, and funding for innovative projects.
  • Quality of research: While India has a significant number of research papers in nanotechnology, only a fraction of them rank among the top 1% of global publications. Maintaining high-quality research output is crucial for establishing a strong reputation in the field and attracting collaborations and investments.
  • Patents: The number of nanotechnology-related patents filed by Indian researchers in the US Patent Office is relatively low, constituting only 0.2% of the total. Limited patent filings indicate a potential gap in converting research outcomes into intellectual property rights, which can restrict commercialization opportunities and hinder technological advancement.
  • Manpower: The field of nanotechnology requires skilled researchers and professionals. However, there is a shortage of students pursuing nanotechnology as a career option. The Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) has set an ambitious target of producing 10,000 PhDs in nanotechnology per year. Efforts are needed to attract and train talented individuals in this field to meet the growing demand for skilled manpower.
  • Limited private sector contribution: Despite the immense potential of nanotechnology, the involvement of the private sector in India remains minimal. Greater participation and investment from the private industry are essential to translate research outcomes into practical applications, promote technology transfer, and drive economic growth.

Developments in Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology has witnessed significant developments across various fields, leading to advancements in materials, electronics, medicine, energy, and more. Some notable developments in nanotechnology include:

  • Nanomaterials: The development of novel nanomaterials has revolutionized industries such as electronics, aerospace, and automotive. Carbon nanotubes, graphene, and quantum dots are examples of nanomaterials that possess exceptional properties, including high strength, conductivity, and optical characteristics.
  • Electronics and Computing: Nanotechnology has paved the way for smaller and more powerful electronic devices. Nanoscale transistors, nanorobotics, and nanosensors have contributed to the miniaturization of electronic components, enabling faster and more efficient computing systems.
  • Medicine and Healthcare: Nanotechnology has had a profound impact on the medical field, offering innovative solutions for diagnostics, drug delivery, and disease treatment. Nanoparticles are used to target specific cells or tissues, delivering drugs with precision and reducing side effects. Nanosensors aid in early disease detection, and nanotechnology-based medical devices have improved imaging and surgical techniques.
  • Energy and Environment: Nanotechnology has the potential to address energy and environmental challenges. It has led to the development of more efficient solar cells, energy storage devices (such as nanobatteries and supercapacitors), and lightweight, high-strength materials for energy-efficient vehicles. Nanoparticles are also employed in environmental remediation, water purification, and pollution control.
  • Agriculture and Food: Nanotechnology offers innovative solutions in agriculture, such as nanofertilizers that enhance nutrient uptake by plants and nanosensors for crop monitoring. In the food industry, nanotechnology plays a role in improving food packaging, extending shelf life, and detecting contaminants.
  • Water Treatment: Nanotechnology has shown promise in water purification and desalination processes. Nanomaterials like graphene oxide membranes and nanofiltration systems have the potential to address water scarcity issues by removing contaminants and making water suitable for consumption.

Nanotechnology UPSC

Nanotechnology is an imperative topic under the Science and Technology section of UPSC Syllabus. With recent developments and new findings, the topic stays in the news and is extremely important from the Current Affairs perspective of the UPSC CSE as well.

To prepare effectively for the exam, candidates are advised to study the fundamentals, applications, and concerns of nanotechnology. Additionally, referring to Science and Technology UPSC Notes can greatly aid in understanding the detailed information about the topic.

Nano Technology UPSC Questions

Nanotechnology and its applications in India have been one of the most asked topics in the UPSC Exam. Candidates can refer to the UPSC Previous Year’s Question Papers to understand the question pattern followed during the prelims and mains exam.

Question: Who first used the term nanotechnology, and when? (A) Richard Feynman, 1959, (B) Norio Taniguchi, 1974, (C) Eric Drexler, 1986, (D) Sumio Iijima, 1991

Answer: (A) Richard Feynman, 1959

Question: Which consumer products are already being made using nanotechnology? (A) Fishing lure, (B) Golf ball, (C) Sunscreen lotion, (D) All of the above

Answer: (D) All of the above

Question for Mains: Why is nanotechnology an important technology for the twenty-first century? Describe the key components of the Indian Government’s Mission on Nanoscience and Technology and the extent of its use in the nation’s growth.

Question for Mains: Discuss the potential applications and challenges associated with nanotechnology in the field of medicine. How can nanotechnology revolutionize healthcare and what are the ethical considerations involved in its implementation?

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