Nano-what? A high school student jokingly asked us after looking at the greyscale pictures captured by powerful microscopes.
Aside from students, some professors and researchers from other universities, and businessmen and industry players as well were a bit awed by the word written in the posters displayed in our “nanotechnology”-focused exhibit.
Understandably, nanotechnology seems to be but jargon to most of the people who dropped by the UPLB booth at the recently concluded National Science and Technology Week Exhibition at the SMX Convention Center, Pasay City.
Dr. Milagros M. Peralta, Director of the Institute of Chemisty at UP Los Baños defined nanotechnology in accordance with the US National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) as the “design, characterization, production, and application of structures, devices, and systems by manipulating a material’s shape and size at the nanometer scale.”
Still mind-boggling? Let us put in another way – If the micrometer is equal to one-millionth of a meter, a nanometer is one-billionth of a meter, or 10-9; and anything that is created or used in that scale is termed as nanomaterial. To see nanomaterials, one has to use special equipment such as the atomic force microscope, the scanning electron and transmission electron microscopes.
“Generally, materials that are no more than 100 nm in at least one dimension are nano-scaled. These may be in the form of particles, fibers, rods, films or sheets,” Dr. Peralta, coordinator of the UPLB Nanotechnology Program and present during the exhibition’s opening day, explained.
“Nanotechnology is one of the directions we are already pursuing here at UP Los Baños,” Dr. Maria Victoria O. Espaldon, the university’s Vice-Chancellor for Research and Extension elaborated.
The university is now exploiting nanotechnology as a means to create value-added products from agriculture and forestry. “Most of all, we are pursuing this field because nanotechnology would enable us to develop diagnostic instruments and procedures that can ensure, among many others, the safety of our food, and the efficiency of natural products for health and wellness,” Dr. Espaldon said.
UPLB VENTURE INTO NANOTECHNOLOGY
In 2009, the university started its Nanotechnology Program with ample research support from the Department of Science and Technology with the aim to improve Philippine agricultural productivity and increase the security and safety of food.
“We have pursued several researches already, thanks to the generous grants from the various DOST sectoral councils,” Dr. Espaldon said.
Initial nanotechnology products developed by different UPLB institutes have been displayed in the booth. The results of these projects have great potential for industrial use in the fields of agriculture, health, medicine, and electronics.
Researchers from the Institute of Chemistry displayed assorted plant-derived powders with nanoencapsulated active ingredients such as quercetin and d-limonene. Quercetin can be derived from malunggay and is a potent anti-oxidant while d-limonene is extracted from common essential oils of citrus, citronella, and lemongrass.
With nanoencapsulation, quercetin can be stable for 6 months under room temperature and can be better absorbed by the body. The d-limonene produced by the researchers, based on their tests, was far more effective than DEET (the active ingredient in commercially available insect repellents), and can be released up to 10 hours.
Other products developed by UPLB’s chemists also included nanosilica, nanochitosan and nanocoatings, created from ricehull ash, shrimp exoskeleton, and agricultural by-products, respectively. Both nanosilica and nanochitosan can be used in purifying groundwater contaminated by arsenic. Nanosilica can also be used as thermal conductor, having a very high heat transfer rate.
On the other hand, the nanocoating films were made from pineapple crown leaves and sugarcane bagasse. The films were used to coat ‘Sinta’ and ‘Solo’ papaya fruits; results of which suggest that the coatings can significantly improve the postharvest life of the fruits.
Other UPLB nanotechnology projects highlighted at the UPLB booth were the Institute of Mathematical Sciences and Physics’ experiments on nanofibers using a process called electrospinning. The nanofibers are applicable in the detection of gases, electromagnetic radiation, and disease-causing bacteria.
UPLB’s National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology also presented their findings on their screening of bacteria which can naturally produce nano-gold. The researchers are currently using nanogold, a much sought-after material for medical diagnostics and imaging, in developing a sensor which can detect the food-borne pathogen Escherichia coli 0157:H7.
NATIONAL SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY WEEK CELEBRATION
The National Science and Technology Week is five-day event organized by the Department of Science and Technology from July 10 to July 14, 2012 at the SMX Convention Center, Pasay City. Its theme was “Science, Technology, and Innovation: Working Together for Growth and Development.”