With nanotechnology becoming an ever more popular concept and its application helping to improve our quality of life, its vast range of uses continues to arouse the imagination. Could it be possible, for instance, to use nanotechnology to create an invisibility cloak like Harry Potter's? How "smart" can we make a window that applies nanotechnology to control indoor light and temperature? And is it possible that children may not have to take painful vaccinations in the future thanks to this technology?
To enable the public to learn more about nanotechnology, a brand new exhibition entitled "Nanotechnology" will be held by the Hong Kong Science Museum at its Science News Corner from today (June 24) until August 31. The exhibition, with content provided by the research teams of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), introduces the insights gained from research on nanotechnology.
Nanotechnology, which studies how to manipulate matter at the scale of a nanometer (10-9m), is bringing people into a new era. The technology not only allows researchers to design and manufacture nanoscale machines of atomic or molecular size, but also lets them invent new materials with novel properties.
Advances in semiconductor fabrication technologies have made it possible to create machines with microscale and nanoscale movable parts. Such micromachines and nanomachines are made using the same technology that produces silicon electronic chips used in computers. Micromachines are widely used in various appliances in everyday life, from acceleration sensors in cars to motion detectors in video game devices. The nanomechanical movement of these tiny machines enables sensitive and fast detection of forces and motions.
Many are fascinated by Harry Potter's miraculous invisibility cloak, which gives him the ability to not be seen thanks to its apparent magical power. Scientists several years ago proposed several theories supported by mathematically derived formulae to illustrate how such a phenomenon could actually occur. HKUST researchers focused on investigating the feasibility of using "complementary media" to achieve invisibility. This is based on the fact that every object scatters light shone onto it and that people's eyes detect that scattered light to see the object. Complementary media are able to scatter light with characteristics (such as phase) exactly opposite to those of the original object. Both sets of scattered light may simply cancel each other out, rendering the object invisible.
With the advance of nanotechnology, people are able to produce "magical" things including smart windows. A smart window consists of a special kind of gel sandwiched between two glass panes. The gel contains organic macromolecules that can be thermally induced to self-assemble. When the temperature rises, the organic macromolecules inside the gel start to cluster into nanoparticles with certain sizes. The thus formed nanoparticles can scatter light and make the smart window look cloudy, making it less transparent. When the temperature is lowered, the window regains its previous level of transparency. Smart windows can have many applications. They can be used to control indoor light and temperature in the next-generation residential and industrial buildings, for example.
HKUST has also developed new microneedle patches that have been proven safe in their use of high-strength nanoporous materials. Microneedle patches can maximise therapeutic effects and minimise skin trauma. They can turn painful vaccinations into a thing of the past.
To help deal with situations in which there is a lack of clean water, the HKUST researchers studied and developed materials with nanoscale pores that could separate pollutants from water and produce clean drinking water of the highest quality. These materials include new nanosorbents and nanofiltration membranes. HKUST also invented a new technology that can convert 99% endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs) into harmless compounds in the very short time of one minute. Conventional water treatment plants are unable to effectively treat these pollutants.
The Science Museum is located at 2 Science Museum Road, Tsim Sha Tsui East. It opens from 1pm to 9pm from Monday to Wednesday and on Fridays, and from 10am to 9pm on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays. It is closed on Thursdays (except public holidays). Admission is $25 with half-price concessions for full-time students, people with disabilities and senior citizens aged 60 or above. Admission is free on Wednesdays.
For details of the exhibition and related programmes, visit the Science Museum's website at http://hk.science.museum/ . For enquiries, please call 2732 3232.
Ends/Friday, June 24, 2011