More than one million people die every year because they do not have access to clean water. 2.5 million or more die from AIDS. And 1.7 billion people have no electricity.
Wealthy nations take much for granted. Clean water, access to healthcare and power to light our homes and fuel our appliances are necessities we could not or would not go without.
Poor access to these basic commodities are global problems that are disproportionately amplified in the poorest corners of the planet. Global problems require a global effort to resolution and many nations, both in the developed and developing worlds, have now stepped up to the mark in search of solutions to the major barriers to third world prosperity.
6000 people die every day because they do not have access to clean water. Most of these are children. Poor quality water and poor sanitation are the main reasons for these deaths – a problem that may, at least partially, be resolved by the provision of accessible water purification systems for all. Sanitation coverage in the developing world is estimated to be just half that of the developed world (98%). This means that more than half of third world residents to not have access to sanitation.
Much research is being conducted to find a solution to this problem. One example is the work of Australian researchers, featured in this issue, who have developed a simple powder-based formula that can be mixed with water to remove impurities. The powder particles are electrostatically charged to attract foreign pathogens and have proven effective at cleaning contaminated water.
The very simple and versatile water treatment technique is extremely portable and therefore potentially extremely accessible. Also, because it doesn’t require any additional technologies such as electrical or thermal energy, it is a technology that may one day have widespread use from individual homes to centralised water treatment plants. Still in early development, potentials of the technique are clearly significant.
As fuel prices continue to rise across the globe, many are facing difficulties with paying electricity and gas bills. The problem is dire in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa where fossil fuels are prohibitively expensive and half a billion people have no access to electricity at all.
Solar cells and hydrogen storage have enormous potential for the provision of lighting and energy across the world and are considered to be among the most likely applications of nanotechnology to benefit developing countries. However, in order to have a real, transformative impact these energy solutions must be mass produced at low cost.
Lighting Africa, a World Bank Group initiative, is driving research into non-fossil fuel based, low cost lighting and energy products. In this issue, we explore some of the new technologies being introduced and trialled in regions of Africa. UK-based G24 Innovations, for example, are a Lighting Africa award winner with plans to begin distribution of light-generating solar cells in Rwanda and solar-powered mobile phone chargers in Kenya in the near future.
HIV/AIDS is a huge problem across the globe and particularly devastating in Sub-Saharan Africa where an estimated 60 per cent of the world’s total population of HIV-infected people live. Other diseases, such as malaria and tuberculosis, also continue to be a major burden on health in the third world.
Advances in medicine, aided by an ever-evolving ability to explore and investigate disease thanks to new, more powerful technologies, are leading to new understandings of already well-studied diseases. As nanotechnologies continue to develop, our ability to investigate, manipulate and treat diseases is also set to improve.
Using advanced microscopy, researchers at Imperial College London and Oxford University recently discovered previously unknown nanotunnels between human immune cells that HIV was able to travel down to move from cell to cell. The discovery, featured in this issue, opens new doors for drug treatment and combating the disease and is an excellent example of the improved understanding of diseases that we are set to gain from new technologies.
Professor James Gimzewski was one of the first scientists ever to image molecules with the Scanning Tuneling Microscope and has led research for many years in the manipulation of molecules on the nanoscale.
We are privileged to report an interview with Professor Gimzewski in which he describes his passion for science, technology and art and his mission to achieve the impossible.
Staying with this theme, our nanomedicine feature in this issue focuses on lab-on-a-chip technology. The Institute of Nanotechnology’s Richard Moore describes how advances in engineering at the nanoscale may add a range of new functionalities to lab-on-a-chip devices, which have significant potential for the early diagnosis of disease, measuring effectiveness of therapies, and enabling home and self-care.
Gold, silver, platinum and palladium have long been considered precious, valued for their rarity and reliability. The emergence of nanotechnology has revealed a new role for these precious metals in medicine, antimicrobial cleaning, auto-mechanics and a range of other potential applications. We explore the history and new horizons for these shining examples.
Gold for example, is taking mining in South Africa to a new level. Here, the national mineral research organisation, Mintek, is leading a major project called AuTEK to produce vast quantities of gold nanoparticles for use in a wide range of industrial applications.
Staying with South Africa, science consultant Christina Classens contributes the country profile in this issue, highlighting investment and advancement in nanotechnology in this country.
Potential similarities between carbon nanotubes and asbestos fibres received wide-spread attention in the media in the past number of weeks. The University of Edinburgh-based Ken Donaldson was lead author of the research which was first reported in Nature Nanotechnology.
In this issue of NANO, Professor Donaldson explains the similarities between carbon nanotubes and asbestos. We delve deeper into the science behind the study and see why the researchers call for caution and an urgent need to explore the potential risks of any new technology before driving too far forward.
Global problems require global solutions.
The research community have been relatively quick to recognise the value and progress gained by collaboration across geographical and scientific boundaries. Today, across all areas of science and technology, including nanotechnology, cross-cultural collaborations in education and research are adding a wealth of knowledge.
Kshitik Aditeya Singh looks more closely at successful collaborations in Asia, Europe and South America. It is impossible to cover it all, instead Singh has provided a snap-shot of the lines of communication that have opened up across the globe.