How a Nanotech Toolbox Can Revolutionise Medicine and Energy Storage

The sheet of paper this text is printed on is about 100,000 nanometers thick and one hair on your head is about 50,000 nanometers wide. In our everyday experience, these are some of the smallest objects we are able to see and feel, but compared to the nanoscale, they are colossal. The nanoscale describes the dimension between 1 and 100 nanometers – in terms of objects, between a sugar molecule and an influenza virus. Nanotechnology tries to understand and control matter at this length scale, a particularly interesting area of research, because the experimental materials often show new and unexpected physical, chemical or biological properties. Once understood and replicated, this nanoscale behaviour can be used for engineering new materials for specific applications. Some nanomaterials have been in use for years, such as the titanium dioxide in sunblock, or water-repellent coating for textiles, but today more than ever, materials scientists are working on the creation of new materials which have the potential to revolutionise a variety of fields – from industrial engineering, biomedical research and diagnosis, to batteries and water purification. Jackie Ying is one of the leading experts at the intersection of nanoscale science, engineering and medicine. In 2003, having returned to Singapore from the USA, she was entrusted with setting up the world’s first bioengineering and nanotechnology institute at Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR). As the institute’s Executive Director, Jackie Ying shapes its vision of how excellent interdisciplinary research can tackle a wide range of challenges from diverse fields. At Falling Walls, she shows how a “nanotech toolbox” could take us one step closer to advanced medical technologies and sustainable green technologies.

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