The environmental impact of nanomachines

(Nanowerk News) Recent advances in synthetic micro/nanomachines have opened new horizons for addressing environmental problems. A new review article in the March 7, 2014 online edition of ACS Nano ("The Environmental Impact of Micro/Nanomachines: A Review") highlights the opportunities and challenges in translating the remarkable progresses in nanomotor technology toward practical environmental applications.
The article covers various environmental areas that would benefit from these developments, including nanomachine-enabled degradation and removal of major contaminants or nanomotor-based water quality monitoring. The authors, Wei Gao and Joseph Wang from UC San Diego, describe recent progresses and demonstrate that nanomachines present variety of opportunities in the environmental field, ranging from accelerated decontamination to in situ water toxicity screening.
These early developments indicate that nanomachines enable novel environmental applications and that the movement of such tiny machines adds a new and powerful dimension to such remediation and sensing procedures (see for instance our previous Nanowerk Spotlight articles: "Nanotechnology strategy for water-quality testing with artificial 'microfish'" and "Microscale garbage truck cleans polluted water").
Schematic process for the degradation of polluted water (rhodamine 6G as model contaminant) into inorganic products by multifunctional micromotors. The self propulsion is achieved by the catalytic inner layer (Pt), which provides the motion of the micromotors in H2O2 solutions. The remediation of polluted water is achieved by the combination of Fe2+ ions with peroxide, generating OH• radicals, which degrade organic pollutants. (Reprinted with permission from American Chemical Society)
While the proof-of-concept of different potential applications has been demonstrated lately by several research groups, and new environmental capabilities of nanomachines have emerged, significant efforts are required before large-scale environmental benefits are realized.
"In the not-so distant future, we anticipate seeing self-regulated multifunctional nanomachines, capable of performing multiple tasks, 'sensing, isolating and destroying' toxic pollutants and chemical threats, searching for sources of hazardous chemicals, or delivering nanosensors and nanosamplers to remote hostile locations," write Gao and Wang.
In their vision, swarms of micromachines could be assembled in response to hazardous conditions, used for mapping the spread of a toxic pollutant over a large area or for accelerating environmental cleanup.
"These and similar developments will have a significant impact upon the environmental field, hence addressing the environmental sustainability challenges facing our world," they conclude.
Source: American Chemical Society
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