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Nanotechnology is emerging from the science laboratory into the marketplace, and is used today in the design and manufacturing of many commercial devices and systems. Among the fields affected by nanotechnology are medical and environmental applications, food production and processing, energy (storage, conversion and saving), information and communication, and improvements to textile and automotive products.

Applications of nanotechnology in medicine include the development of contrast agents for cell imaging.  These agents assist in visualization of cells, and contribute to biomedical research and to medical diagnostics (detection and classification of diseases).  Nanotechnology can also help with future drug delivery systems, and there are designs that call for the use of nanorobots to repair damage and detect abnormalities inside the human body.    

Liquid spills bead up and roll off Nano-Tex 100% cotton fabric. Credit: Nano-Tex., Inc

Nanotechnology is being used for creating fabrics with enhanced properties such as stain, dirt, and water resistance. The fabric used in these applications contains tiny nano-whiskers or fiber-like structures that are connected to a common center. The whiskers are hydrophobic - they repel water by causing it to form droplets. The droplets are larger than the spacing between whiskers, therefore remaining on top of the fabric allowing it to be brushed or wiped.

Nanotechnology for enhanced textiles has also been used for anti-static fabrics, controlled release of fragrances, antifungals and antimicrobiotics, fabrics that better wick moisture from the skin, and reflective fabrics. Nanotechnology is being used for spinning stronger and lighter materials for applications such as bullet-proof vests, tennis rackets, and balls for golf, tennis and bowling.

A catalytic converter is a device used in the exhaust system of an automobile to reduce the environmental toxicity of substances emitted by the internal combustion engine. The catalytic converter breaks down some emissions through a chemical reaction catalyzed by a precious metal. Often expensive noble metals such as platinum, palladium, or rhodium are used as the catalyst metal; cerium, iron, manganese and nickel are also used in some designs. Recently, nanoparticles of precious metals were integrated into catalytic converter designs.  They allow the use of much less material to provide the same surface area that was available through the previous use of bulk materials. This enhancement reduces the cost of catalytic converters and makes them more efficient. 

Nanotechnology has improved fresh water filtration through the use of Nanopores (small pores in an electrically insulating membrane that can be used as a single-molecule detector).  Nanopores have been developed that are so small that they can filter the smallest contaminant. Water purifications systems that use such pores often incorporate ultraviolet (UV) resistant materials so that the water passing through can be radiated to destroy contaminants such as pesticides, solvents, and microbes.  Nanopores can be fabricated with great precision, allowing for effective filtration with minimal effect on the flow rate through the system.

The contribution of nanotechnology to information and communication is in providing new methods for data storage, enabling the design of novel semiconductor and optoelectronic devices as well as integrated circuits. Nanotechnology is used in the design of displays and human-computer interfaces. One of the areas of applications is the development of smaller platforms for video games.