Nanotechnology, mostly referred to as nanotech, is a new concept at the realm of science which has not yet gotten a definition that is agreeable to all scientists working in the area.
Scientists studying matter at the nano level, 1-100 nanometers of materials, say that nanotech is a game changer in the scientific exploration with a capacity of even “ending death itself”. They say there are no areas of research or real life that nanotechnology could not be applied to.
These applications range from construction, energy production and storage to agricultural productivity enhancement, water treatment and remediation, disease diagnosis and drug delivery, food processing and air pollution remedies. Some of these applications were showcased in a book Harnessing Nanotechnology for Sustainable Development in Africa, which was launched at the Ministry of Science and Technology on Tuesday.
The book co-edited by Hailemichael Teshome (Prof.), Cosmas Ochieng (PhD), Guillermo Foladori (PhD) and Dessalegn Mengesha (MD) has brought together lawyers, health experts and practitioners, nuclear scientists, geoscientists and chemists to collaborate on the realization of the book.
Hailemichael, a lawyer by profession and an associate professor at Gondar University, who speaks fluent science when he needs to, believes that, “Africa should not be left behind when it comes to scientific researches such as nanotech.”
Although it is a hi-tech term and could not be simply put to be understood by a layman, Hailemichael says that it is the farmers, the construction site workers and others that will put the products of nanotechnology into implementation.
“For instance, there can be nano-scale sensors to measure PH level, moisture level, and growth of crops that can be used by farmers even if they do not know the science of nanotechnology,” Hailemichael argues.
Nanotechnology materials can be used to elongate the life of ploughs as well as fuel efficiency at farmlands, he argues and the users of the materials do not actually have to know the science.
A technology that is said to even help reverse climate change as well as elongate the life of the falling walls of the Gondar Fasiledes Castle and the cracking rock hewn churches of Lalibella at their current status for the coming centuries, should be known in Ethiopia at least to be used in products that come out of the technology, Hailemichael argues. But, this is not free from risks, he argues.
The question of priority is always raised in relation to technology but adopting technologies is important in order not to be left back and not to lose the benefits people used to get from the status quo, according to him.
“In general, laws and technology are opposite. The later is disruptive while the former tries to maintain the existing situation. It is because of the risks that comes along such technologies that we need the legal frameworks to go along the technology; the law should not be a setback to technology but a helping hand,” Hailemichael explains.
An optimistic, affirmative and programmatic person, Hailemichael believes that the legal frameworks should be put in place in order to control the risks that might arise from experimentation in nanotech.
The book that doubts the success of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and praises the successors of the MDGs, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the focus given to technology, is meant to provide a document for the African Nanotechnology research, according to the co-editor.
A subject that is close to “science fiction” has a potential to help us overcome our day to day activities like access to clean water and health issues.
“Egypt should not worry about the effect of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and its potential impact on the flow of the river downstream,” Hailemichael explains. “Since it would be possible to drink from sea water in the near future thanks mainly to the salt being separated from the water by using technology.”
At laboratory level, a diamond, a pure carbon, had been produced using nanotechnology and there are plans to market them. Countries that are dependent on extracted diamond should speed up and catch up with the technology in order to ensure their status.
For a research on nanotech, 400 billion dollars have been spent globally in 2010; and the US investment on the sector has now exceeded 12 billion dollars and it is said to be the technology of the future.