CAIRO: For the last few years scientists at the National Research Center in Cairo (NRC) have been considering how to introduce nanotechnology into Egypt.
According to researchers, this new branch of technology involving microscopically small structures is both cheap and efficient, and could have a wide range of applications relevant to the country, particularly in the field of the environment.
Nanotechnology is the result of decades of research into controlling matter on the level of the atom and molecule, with the creation of structures and devices that fall within the range of 100 nanometers, or one billionth of a meter. Partly due to their minute size, these devices are able to go where traditional technologies cannot go, as well as interacting with their targets on a molecular level.
Dr Nasrallah Mohamed Deraz of the NRC’s Physical Chemistry Department has been working on exploring the potential of this new branch of science, and told Daily News Egypt of just a few of the possible applications.”The Nanometer is the minutest and the most precise measurement unit reached so far, he said. “It’s equivalent to the length of five atoms placed side by side.
“In the medical field, for example, one pharmaceutical company has been able to produce a nano-gadget so small it can be planted into the body of a diabetic, enabling him to do without insulin jabs.
“Similarly, minute nano-machines could be structured to blow up cancerous cells. In addition, research is underway on a nano-alternative for antibiotics called ‘nanobiotics’.
“Nanotechnology has increased the efficiency and reduced the sizes of items and their components in a way that has made them more practical, efficient and portable, said Deraz.
In the field of electronics, for example, it has revolutionized the sizes of cell-phones and computers, enabling some to become smaller than previously imagined.
In addition, there is potential for the use of these minute structures as ‘seeds’ from which larger structures or materials might be grown.
“A huge tree originates from a seed carrying the specifications of that massive structure, said Deraz. “Similarly, we will be able to produce large things using tiny structures instead of resorting to large materials, which might be expensive and environmentally damaging.
Such breakthroughs have led to the development of cheaper, yet stronger construction materials. And in textiles, experts are producing heat-proof materials on an industrial scale that was previously impossible.
Clearly, such advances are of potential benefit to any nation that makes use of them. But for the developing world, and particularly desert nations such as Egypt, it is the potential in the fields of energy and the environment that is most tantalizing.
In Saudi Arabia, applying nanotechnology to a water desalination plant has boosted productivity and brought down cost. And according to the NRC’s published research, this technology is making a vital contribution to experimentation on solar energy and power generated through the fission of the hydrogen atom.
“Let alone other applications in agriculture and water purification, nanotechnology is the key to potential solutions bearing on energy problems, said Deraz. “It is also the key to greening the desert and producing plants we might have never heard of. Bearing in mind all of the potential benefits, many nanotechnologists are somewhat aggrieved that the government is reluctant to channel resources their way. The government has its eyes on other issues, they say, and appears not to have grasped the potentials in terms of national development.
With this in mind, a group of scientists from the NRC has formed a special working group with the aim of establishing and consolidating links with relevant bodies and research centers around the world, and in late 2007 they hosted two conferences attended by experts from around the world.
Both events have underlined the necessity of self-funding in the absence of a role played by the government, and the working group has been busy setting up alternative channels for funding to ensure that research continues apace.
According to scientists, nanotechnology has opened a new world of possibilities, but Egypt will not feel the true benefit without serious funding.