By Benny Landa, Chairman & CEO, Landa Corporation
The power of new technologies is everywhere. They change how we live and work, sometimes with amazing speed. Social media was practically unknown a decade ago, yet today one billion people use Facebook and interact with friends, family and colleagues in an entirely new way that no one could have predicted. That’s the thing about technology: its impact is unpredictable.
Today no one knows how the mobile internet, cloud computing or advanced robotics will change our lives – or how modern gene-sequencing technology, which is advancing even faster than microelectronics, will affect the war on disease and global poverty.
But one thing is certain: technologies create lasting change – and there is no going back.
One field of research that holds great promise for disruptive change is nanotechnology, particularly nanomaterials. Nanomaterials are created by manipulating matter of less than 100 nanometers in size (a human hair is approximately 100,000 nanometers in diameter).
At nanoscale, ordinary substances like carbon, clay and metals can take on surprising properties – including greater reactivity, unusual electrical and optical properties, enormous strength, lower melting temperatures – that can enable the creation of extra-hard coatings, super-strong materials and even ultra-powerful batteries. Nanomaterials can already be commonly found in products as varied as sunscreens, cosmetics, coatings, paints, food packaging, bacteria-killing socks, and tennis rackets.
As for the future, nano-pigments will enhance the quality of television displays, nano-based digital inks will transform printing and nano-based agro chemicals will protect crops and augment food production. Graphene, a unique form of carbon that is just one atom thick, will enable super-capacitor batteries which will take only a few minutes to charge a laptop for a full week. And nano-based solar cells and energy storage will supply most consumer power needs.
Thanks to nano-composites, self-driving electric cars will go 500 kilometers without recharging – and will be lighter and stronger than today’s vehicles. Tablet computers will be a thin sheet that can be rolled up and put in a pocket. The walls of our homes and offices will be covered with ultra-thin nano-material that will not only provide lighting, but will display information, movies or simply background art. Nano-based filters could cheaply turn salt water into fresh water while removing impurities, making the world’s shortage of fresh water a thing of the past.
But perhaps the most exciting of all nanotechnology opportunities is in medicine, where nano drug delivery systems will revolutionize medical diagnostics and treatment.
One day, using a simple blood test and inexpensive gene sequencing, patients will be checked for illnesses, including various cancers. When cancer is detected, a customized dose of cancer-killing medication, uniquely formulated to target the specific cancer, would be delivered in nano-particle form to the cancer cells – without affecting healthy cells. Nano drug delivery will become a commonplace tool employed to fight pain, cure disease and save lives.
It is impossible to predict when these fruits of nanotechnology research will be borne. Some, such as the Nanography® process, are already close to market. Others, such as energy storage and nano drug delivery, are still years away.
Israel is not yet regarded as a global leader in nanotechnology, but I believe that will soon change. Though better known for our internet start-ups, there is significant nanotechnology research being conducted at Israeli universities as well as at a number of private sector companies. Amongst them is our own research center, Landa Labs, in which some seventy researchers, mainly physicists, chemists and materials scientists, have, for the past decade, been developing nanotechnology solutions ranging from nanopigments for digital imaging and printing to nano-materials for clean energy and drug delivery. If their progress in any indication, I believe that Israel is well on the way to joining the club of nanotechnology leaders.
*A Hebrew version of this article was published in the Haaretz newspaper supplement “NanoIsrael 2014” on March 23, 2014.