Recently, I started on a new job on which I am supposed to coordinate nanoscience research. Being a molecular biologist I know my model organisms and genes but not even remotely anything about nano. Here is the first thing I have learned: nano is small. Why is that cool? Well, there are probably multiple reasons but one is that there is something about really small things which is actually quite large: their surface!
Yep, think about it: loads of smaller rocks have a much higher total surface than a giant rock of the same weight or volume. So this makes nanoparticles cool, say if the are made from a material that can catalyse stuff, i.e. facilitate chemical reactions. The reactants need to be in contact with the catalytical material. Making this material not as a giant block but as a mesh of gazillions of nanoparticles will increase the physical interface between the reactant and the catalyzer a lot. And you know what? We need this!
We need this for instance in electrolyzers which we should consider building in large quantities. That is, because those things can help us convert the energy made by regenerative energy sources such a wind turbines. When there is plenty of wind, they sometimes generate too much energy for the power grids and might even need to be shut down. Electrolyzers could convert this energy to hydrogen which can be stored and transported. Wherever we need energy then we could use this hydrogen in fuel cells to power things. And you know what? In fuel cells we also need catalyzers – those things that work most efficiently as nanoparticles.