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What is Picotechnology?


It is a level of technological manipulation of matter on the scale of trillionths of a meter or picoscale (10 - 12 ). This is one order of magnitude smaller than a nanometer and one order of magnitude smaller than most chemistry transformations and measurements. Picotechnology involves the manipulation of matter at the atomic and subatomic level.

Picotechnology refers to the structuring of matter on a true picometer scale.

Why is the Size of a Picometer?

In everyday life the English system of measurement with units like feet, gallons and pounds is primarily used in the United States. Scientists and the rest of the world use the metric system of measurement with base units such as the meter, liter and gram. The base unit is then multiplied or divided by powers of ten to represent larger or smaller measurements. Prefixes are used to relate the relative size of the measurement with respect to the base unit.

Since the base unit for length is the meter, the table below shows all the different prefixes that could be used to express length.

Picotechnology involves the alteration of the structure and chemical properties of individual atoms, typically through the manipulation of energy states of electrons within an atom to produce new properties.

Pico - (symbol p ) is a unit prefix in the metric system denoting one trillionth, a factor of 10 - 12 (0.000000000001).

Derived from the Spanish pico, meaning peak, beak, bit, this was one of the original 12 prefixes defined in 1960 when the International System of Units was established.

What is So Special About Picoscale and Picotechnology?

Picoscale particles are not new in either nature or science. However, the recent leaps in areas such as microscopy have given scientists new tools to understand and take advantage of phenomena that occur naturally when matter is organized at the nanoscale and picoscale. In essence, these phenomena are based on “quantum effects“ and other simple physical effects such as expanded surface area.

The majority of biological processes occur at the atomic and subatomic level. Therefore, since working at the Picoscale is at the atomic and subatomic levels, it gives scientists the ability to construct new processes that can enhance biological systems, medicine, imaging, computing, printing, chemical catalysis, materials synthesis, and many other fields.

Picotechnology is not simply working at even smaller dimensions; rather, working at the picoscale enables scientists to utilize the unique physical, chemical, mechanical, and optical properties of materials that naturally occur at that scale.

When particle sizes of solid matter in the visible scale are compared to what can be seen in a regular optical microscope, there is little difference in the properties of the particles. But when particles are the size of a picometer, which is a trillionth of a meter (often represented as 1 x 10 - 12 meters or fully as 0.000,000,000,001 meters) where the particles can be “seen” only with powerful specialized microscopes, the materials’ properties change significantly from those at larger scales. This is the size scale where so-called quantum effects rule the behavior and properties of particles.

Properties of materials are size-dependent in this scale range. Thus, when particle size is made to be picoscale, properties such as melting point, fluorescence, electrical conductivity, magnetic permeability, and chemical reactivity change as a function of the size of the particle.

Picoscale gold illustrates the unique properties that occur at the picoscale. Picoscale gold particles are not the yellow color with which we are familiar; Picoscale gold can appear red or purple. At the nanoscale, the motion of the gold’s electrons is confined. Because this movement is restricted, gold nanoparticles react differently with light compared to larger-scale gold particles. Their size and optical properties can be put to practical use: picoscale gold particles selectively accumulate in tumors where they can enable both precise imaging and targeted laser destruction of the tumor by means that avoid harming healthy cells.

A fascinating and powerful result of the quantum effects of the picoscale is the concept of “tunability” of properties. That is, by changing the size of the particle, a scientist can literally fine-tune a material property of interest (e.g., changing fluorescence color; in turn, the fluorescence color of a particle can be used to identify the particle, and various materials can be “labeled” with fluorescent markers for various purposes). Another potent quantum effect of the picoscale is known as “tunneling,” which is a phenomenon that enables the scanning tunneling microscope and flash memory for computing.

Over millennia, nature has perfected the art of biology at the picoscale. Many of the inner workings of cells naturally occur at the picoscale. For example, hemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen through the body, is only 5.5 nanometers in diameter.

A strand of DNA, one of the building blocks of human life, is only about 2 nanometers in diameter, both of which are much larger than a picometer.

Drawing on the natural picoscale of biology, many medical researchers are working on designing tools, treatments, and therapies that are more precise and personalized than conventional ones—and that can be applied earlier in the course of a disease and lead to fewer adverse side- effects. One medical example of picotechnology is the bio-barcode assay, a relatively low-cost method of detecting disease-specific biomarkers in the blood, even when there are very few of them in a sample. The basic process, which attaches “recognition” particles and DNA “amplifiers” to gold picoparticles, was originally demonstrated at Northwestern University for a prostate cancer biomarker following prostatectomy.

The bio-barcode assay has proven to be considerably more sensitive than conventional assays for the same target biomarkers, and it can be adapted to detect almost any molecular target.

Growing understanding of picoscale biomolecular structures is impacting other fields than medicine. Some scientists are looking at ways to use picoscale biological principles of molecular self-assembly, self- organization, and quantum mechanics to create novel computing platforms. Other researchers have discovered that in photosynthesis, the energy that plants harvest from sunlight is nearly instantly transferred to plant “reaction centers” by quantum mechanical processes with nearly 100% efficiency (little energy wasted as heat). They are investigating photosynthesis as a model for “green energy” picosystems for inexpensive production and storage of nonpolluting solar power.

Picoscale materials have far larger surface areas than similar masses of larger-scale materials. As surface area per mass of a material increases, a greater amount of the material can come into contact with surrounding materials, thus affecting reactivity.

Picoparticles Have High Surface Area

A simple thought experiment at the nanoscale level (which is even much larger than the picoscale level and will show much less surface area then picoparticles ) shows why nanoparticles have phenomenally high surface areas. A solid cube of a material 1 cm on a side has 6 square centimeters of surface area, about equal to one side of half a stick of gum. But if that volume of 1 cubic centimeter were filled with cubes 1 mm on a side, that would be 1,000 millimeter-sized cubes (10 x 10 x 10), each one of which has a surface area of 6 square millimeters, for a total surface area of 60 square centimeters—about the same as one side of two-thirds of a 3” x 5” note card. When the 1 cubic centimeter is filled with micrometer-sized cubes—a trillion (10 12 ) of them, each with a surface area of 6 square micrometers—the total surface area amounts to 6 square meters, or about the area of the main bathroom in an average house. And when that single cubic centimeter of volume is filled with 1-nanometer-sized cubes—10 21 of them, each with an area of 6 square nanometers—their total surface area comes to 6,000 square meters. In other words, a single cubic centimeter of cubic nanoparticles has a total surface area one- third larger than a football field! So if you extrapolate this surface area at the picoscale, the surface area increases dramatically much more then for nanoparticles.

Illustration demonstrating the effect of the increased surface area provided by nanostructured materials

One benefit of greater surface area—and improved reactivity—in picostructured materials is that they have helped create better catalysts. As a result, catalysis by engineered picostructured materials already impacts about one-third of the huge U.S.—and global—catalyst markets, affecting billions of dollars of revenue in the oil and chemical industries. An everyday example of catalysis is the catalytic converter in a car, which reduces the toxicity of the engine’s fumes. Picoengineered batteries, fuel cells, and catalysts can potentially use enhanced reactivity at the picoscale to produce cleaner, safer, and more affordable modes of producing and storing energy.

Large surface area also makes picostructured membranes and materials ideal candidates for water treatment and desalination, among other uses. It also helps support “functionalization” of picoscale material surfaces (adding particles for specific purposes), for applications ranging from drug delivery to clothing insulation.

Why Picotechnology?

The ability to utilize materials on the atomic level and the use of the unique phenomena that occurs on that small scale, give a huge amount of possibilities for almost every field.

Picotechnology is one of the key technologies that will change our lives in the future. With picotechnology we will be able to dive into structures on a pico-molecule level. Picotechnology is a technology based on the manipulation of single atoms and molecules, to structure and re-structure complex atomic formations.

The scale of a pico-molecule relates to a basketball compared to the size of the earth.

When molecules that normally bustle about unorganized in materials, are structured in a way that each atom stay where it should be, the impossible becomes possible.

Materials get new powers when the atoms are controlled and closely arranged. Picotechnology manipulates molecules through current, magnetism and chemistry, so that they organize themselves. Nature serves as the model for that: the cell and its function. The aim of picotechnology is making molecules organize themselves without the help of a human. It has been speculated since long by futurists that picotechnology will revolutionize virtually every field of our lives, medicine making no exception. Picotechnology focuses on the engineering of materials and devices at a picoscale, by using building blocks of atoms and molecules.

Future Applications?

Possibilities for the future are numerous. Picotechnology may make it possible to manufacture lighter, stronger, and programmable materials that require less energy to produce than conventional materials, that produce less waste than with conventional manufacturing, and that promise greater fuel efficiency in land transportation, ships, aircraft, and space vehicles. Picocoatings for both opaque and translucent surfaces may render them resistant to corrosion, scratches, and radiation. picoscale electronic, magnetic, and mechanical devices and systems with unprecedented levels of information processing may be fabricated, as may chemical, photochemical, and biological sensors for protection, health care, manufacturing, and the environment; new photoelectric materials that will enable the manufacture of cost-efficient solar-energy panels; and molecular-semiconductor hybrid devices that may become engines for the next revolution in the information age. The potential for improvements in health, safety, quality of life, and conservation of the environment are vast.

Medical picotechnology may be able to extend our lives in two ways. It can repair our bodies at the cellular level, lengthening the telomeres, reverse aging and providing a certain version of the fountain of youth, and it can help the medical community to eradicate life-threatening diseases such as stroke, heart attack, HIV or cancer.

By curing life-threatening disease, picotech can extend the average lifespan far beyond the remarkable achievements of the last century. For instance, the picotechnology applications in healthcare are likely to minimize the number of deaths from conditions such as heart disease and cancer over the next decade or so. There are already many research programs in place working on these techniques. Curing cancer could finally become reality, thanks to medical picotechnology.

Magnetic picoparticles attaching to cancer cells present in the bloodstream could also allow the removal of cancer cells before they establish new tumors.

Similar research projects are in place for studying ways of fighting heart disease, another major killer in our time. Several efforts are going on in this area. For example, researchers at the University of Santa Barbara have designed a nanoparticle able to deliver drugs to the wall arteries plaque. Extending the average lifespan by repairing cells is another area of interest for medical picotechnology. This is perhaps the most exciting application. Our bodies can be repaired at the cellular level by picotechnology.

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