“It’s a small world after all.” Walt Disney
Technically ‘nanotechnology’ deals with the applied science of technology where at least one dimension, of the material in question, is less than 100nm. The concept of nanotechnology was described by Richard Feynman in 1959, but the phrase was not defined till 1974 by Norio Taniguchi. Research in 1985 led to the discovery of buckminster fullerene molecules which are composed entirely of carbon, forming either a hollow sphere or tube. Cylindrical fullerenes are carbon nanotubes, which are similar in structure to graphite, in that they comprise a sheet of hexagonal rings, but also contain pentagonal rings at the tube ends.
The discovery led to the award of the Nobel prize in 1996, shared equally between Sir Harry Kroto, University of Sussex, UK and Robert Curl and Richard Smalley from Rice University, Houston Texas. However, 1991 was considered the date of the advent of nanoscience with the availability of gram-scale quantities of nanomaterials, chiefly buckyballs and carbon nanotubes which opened up the research field.
Advances in the understanding of the physics and physical chemistry of nanostructured materials and nanoparticles and progress in analytical instrumentation have led to an expanding field of applications, including in the biological and medical sciences. Therefore the potential applications have become a subject of intensive fundamental and applied multi- and inter-disciplinary research.
The School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Science is focusing on the use of nanoscale materials at the life science interface. The primary aim of the nanotechnology group is to develop key nanomaterials as a hub technology, providing a reliable platform from which to synthesize a wide range of advanced composite materials adaptable for specific applications. These are envisaged as seamlessly integrating with existing research drives with our School in the areas of biomedical materials, medical devices, disease processes and chemical biology.
Research is underway in the toxicology and biocompatibility assessment of nanomaterials derived from either bottom-up or top-down assembly. We have a range of cell and in vivo models developed in house, giving a wide range of tests to study the interaction, uptake and mobility of nano-sized materials. This will enable the development of experimental models and techniques for the assessment of health and safety issues associated with manufacturing, environmental and biomedical applications of nanoparticles. Ultimately, we are looking to develop a systematic methodology for risk assessment and management of manufacturing processes and technologies associated with the production or use of nanoparticles.
The greatest impact for nanoscience and nanotechnology within our university is envisaged to be the development of nanomaterials as biomaterials. Nanomaterials have found applications in bioelectrodes, vaccine carriers, drug delivery systems, tissue engineering constructs, gene therapy delivery systems and biosensors. Extensive work, in collaboration with MAST Carbon, led to the advancement of carbon column biological filters in haemoperfusion, where nano- (and meso-) sized pores, along the monolith walls, selectively filter out toxins from blood flow. In conjunction with the University of Surrey, we have developed carbon nanotube-based sensors for sub-epidermal analysis.
Buckypaper, a thin sheet of carbon nanotubes compressed into a freely supported mat, is ideal for cell growth and implantation. Significant focus is given to investigation into the chemistry and morphology of carbon nanotubes in order to ascertain the biological responses to carbon nanotubes specifically, rather than foreign material. Within the School, we are currently involved in investigating buckypaper and post-injury nerve cell re-growth, buckypaper and osteoblasts for bone re-growth and stem cell differentiation. Through controlling the porosity and the surface chemistry of buckypaper, it will be possible to develop ultra-filtration kits.
Nanotechnology research at the University of Brighton is truly multidisciplinary and encompasses diverse fields such as biology, materials science, chemistry, environmental science. Strong international collaborations have been developed and we currently partner the Bio-Nano Electronics Research Center at Toyo University in Japan.
Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences is engaged in nanotechnology transfer with a number of external companies in the development of nanomaterials for loud speakers, waste water purification and hydrogels, and also in the fabrication of nanostructured materials for biosensors.
We have recruited a nanotechnology business to develop future links with industry.
A new website for the University of Brighton's Nanoscience & Nanotechnology Group will be launched shortly.