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How much do you know about ubiquitous nanotechnology?

(Xinhua)    18:44, August 30, 2017

BEIJING, Aug. 30 -- Mobile phones, computers, cosmetics, bicycles... nanoscience is hiding in so many everyday items, wielding a huge influence on our lives at microscale level.

Scientists and engineers from around the world are exchanging new findings and perceptions on nanotechnology at the Seventh International Conference on Nanoscience and Technology (ChinaNANO 2017) in Beijing from Aug. 29 to 31.

Nanoscience can be defined as the study of the interaction, composition, properties and manufacturing methods of materials at a nanometer scale.

At such tiny scales, the physical, chemical and biological properties of materials are different from those at larger scales -- often profoundly so.

For example, alloys that are weak or brittle become strong and ductile; compounds that are chemically inert become powerful catalysts.

With ideal mechanical, chemical, electrical, thermal or optical properties, new nanomaterials are being applied in everyday commercial products, as well as industrial manufacturing, according to a report released at the conference.

The report was jointly produced by Springer Nature, the National Center for Nanoscience and Technology (NCNST) and the National Science Library of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

It is estimated that there are more than 1,600 nanotechnology-based consumer products on the market, including lightweight but sturdy tennis rackets, bicycles, suitcases, automobile parts and rechargeable batteries, according to the report.

Nanomaterials are used in hairdryers or straighteners to make them lighter and more durable. The secret of how sunscreens protect skin from sunburn lies in the nanometer-scale titanium dioxide or zinc oxide they contain.

As a key driver that has fueled the advancement of information technology and the digital electronics industry, nanotechnology has increased the computational speeds of a wide range of electronics while allowing them to become smaller.

In 2016, the world's first one-nanometer transistor was created. It was made from carbon nanotubes and molybdenum disulphide, rather than silicon, said the report.

Carbon nanotubes or silver nanowires enable touch screens on computers and televisions to be flexible, said Zhu Xing, chief scientist at the NCNST.

Nanostructured alloys, with their great strength, high durability and light weight, are high-performance materials used in airplanes and aerospace components, said the report.

Nanotechnology can also offer solutions in environmental protection.

Nanotechnology-based approaches have been used to increase efficiency of solar photovoltaic power generation, transform car exhaust into useful energy, and convert carbon dioxide into methane, a clean fuel gas.

As for energy storage, nanostructured electrode materials can improve the efficiency and endurance of electric cars by augmenting capacity and performance of rechargeable batteries.

The report said nanotechnology is having an increasing impact on healthcare, with steady progress in drug delivery, biomaterials, imaging, diagnostics, active implants and other therapeutic applications.

When extolling the benefits brought by nanotechnology, we should be aware of the latent risks of this new technology, the report said.

The biggest current concern is the health threats of nanoparticles, which can easily enter body via airways or skin.

The report raised examples, including contaminated metals in carbon nanotubes and diesel nanoparticles, which have been found to be detrimental to health. Construction workers exposed to nanopollutants face increased health risks.

Given the current lack of understanding of whether or how nanomedicines are metabolized in human bodies, the use of them, though promising, may lead to unexpected consequences, said the report.

In response to these concerns, the Chinese government has invested in nanosafety research since 2001, with around seven percent of the nanotechnology research budget going to research into the environmental, health and safety implications of nanotechnology, said Zhu.

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Web editor: Du Mingming, Bianji)

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