Think small: Nanotechnology applications go beyond computers

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Northwest Vista program offers training in nanotechnology.

By Wally Perez

sac-ranger@alamo.edu

The next big step in technology since computers is nanomachines, the program coordinator for the nanotechnology program at Northwest Vista College said Oct. 22 during a lecture at St. Philip’s College.

Sixty-eight attendees gathered in the Heritage Room of the campus center for the lecture that was sponsored by St. Philip’s as part of a science, technology, engineering and math lecture series.

The speaker, Dr. Bharathi Subramaniasiva, nanotechnology program coordinator at Northwest Vista College, had a slide presentation featuring the advances of computers over the years and demonstrations involving volunteers.

The term nano- is a prefix denoting one-billionth of a unit and can be applied to anything.

Over the years, people have begun to realize that everything is made of atoms and they can be manipulated, she said.

Technology has advanced since early computers and over the years smaller components have been made.

“If you go back 10 years and look at hard drives or USB drives, you’ll see that we’ve gone from 128 MB to 128 GB capacities while keeping the same size,” Subramaniasiva said. “This is due to the fact that we’ve created smaller microchips that are more efficient.”

One demonstration included a water resistant shirt that a student wore while Subramaniasiva poured water on it that streamed off the side.

“The surface of the shirt has small bumps that can be seen at the nanometer level, which prevent liquids from penetrating,” Subramaniasiva said.

The possibilities of what nanotechnology could do for everyday life are great, and people don’t realize that it is used in almost everything.

Subramaniasiva walked around the room to engage the audience, and the audience seemed interested when Subramaniasiva explained ways advances in nanotechnology could benefit much more than just computers.

When asked how nanotechnology could be involved with something like cosmetics, Subramaniasiva explained the use of sunscreen at the nanometer level.

Sunscreen includes zinc oxide particles at a nanometer level, which, when applied to an area, absorbs radiation and prevents UV rays from penetrating the cream to the skin, she said.

The potential use of nanotechnology and pharmaceuticals is a big deal, as antibiotics can be created so small that they can attach to harmful bacteria and cells while releasing helpful drugs.

“The idea of creating a treatment for things like cancers would be such a huge step for both cancer research and nanotechnology,” Subramaniasiva said.

When questioned about the potential harm that nanotechnology could cause, Subramaniasiva said, “Like anything else, people will always find uses for things in other ways, but the benefits far outweigh the risks.”

Northwest Vista is the only Alamo College to offer a nanotechnology program, but Subramaniasiva hopes that it garners enough attention that it spreads to the other colleges.

The program offers students the chance to learn the skills and abilities to operate nanofabrication equipment, learn scientific principles and understand the behavior of matter at the atomic level in chemical, biological and molecular systems, she said.

Subramaniasiva is also working on getting a dual credit program at high schools.

St. Philip’s mathematics Instructor Jennifer Lopez hopes that the STEM lectures spark an interest in students.

“The main idea behind these lectures is to provide easily accessible information and resources for the students,” Lopez said.

The next STEM lecture is scheduled for the spring semester with the topic still up for discussion.

Students interested in nanotechnology are encouraged to visit www.alamo.edu/nvc/nanotech for information, or contact Subramaniasiva at bsubramaniasiva@alamo.edu.

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