Diamond coated knee replacement – Credit – Diamond Hard Coatings Ltd.
Nanotechnology is defined as the branch of technology that deals with dimensions and tolerances of less than 100 nanometres, especially the manipulation of individual atoms and molecules. The prefix 'nano' originates from the ancient Greek for 'a small person'. Scientifically it is defined as one billionth (10 to the minus 9) of something, therefore a nanometre (nm) is one billionth of a meter. A nanometre is about three to five atoms wide, or some 40,000 times smaller than the thickness of human hair. A virus is typically 100 nm in size. Microtechnology dominated technological advancement from the 1950s until 2020, notably in the advancement of microelectronics and information technology. Nanotechnology is at the stage where microtechnology was in the 1960s. Many new developments will occur over the next few decades enabled by nanotechnology including quantum technologies which will have a huge impact in the next coming years. Of particular interest to us is how we can apply nanotechnology to healthcare.
Nanotechnology is already impacting consumer markets such as electronics (QLED TVs) energy, (fuel cells, batteries & supercapacitors), sensing, environmental, textiles, industrial processes, food & agriculture and last but not least biomedical and healthcare which at the university we describe as Medical Nanotechnology. Research involving nanotechnology is extremely active in all the above applications. Medical Nanotechnology covers a very wide and ever-increasing area of research and development. Some examples of active research around the world in the healthcare area include, drug delivery, imaging and sensing, photonics and antimicrobial/antiviral materials.
Our Nanotechnology Focus Areas
The UHI Medical Nanotechnology Research Group was formed to build our reseach in nanomaterials for biomedical applications, as well as photonics laboratory for optical spectroscopy and bio-photonics. More specifically work is planned in coatings produced by sophisticated but scalable physical techniques including physical vapour deposition (PVD). Our focus will cover the following:
Antimicrobial and antiviral surfaces
Hospital acquired infections (HAIs) and more recently the global pandemic of 2020 highlight the consequences of infection to the population. We are actively working on antimicrobial and antiviral surface coatings. PVD is used to generate ultra-hard surfaces which are also intentionally textured at the nanoscale to present a surface which is highly active against microbes and viruses. Potential applications of this coating include surgical instruments, medical implants and touch surfaces.
We are investigating the application of photonics (the use of light) in healthcare applications. Optical spectroscopy may be used to measure and identify biochemical species. We are using nanostructured metallic surfaces to enhance optical signals via techniques such as Surface Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy (SERS). We are planning to investigate the use of short wavelength light sources (Gallium Nitride) for applications such as sterilisation. Other light sources will be applied to the areas of photo-biotherapies – such as wound healing.
Diamond like coatings
Diamond like coatings (DLC) have been investigated in the past for healthcare applications such as reduced protein adhesion, scratch resistance and low coefficient of friction. Traditionally, DLC coatings have been applied using a chemical plasma approach which heats up the coated part which in turn suffers from an in-built strain which can cause coating delamination. We will be investigating a new room temperature technology to apply DLC coatings to surfaces without in-built strain.
New nanocoatings and nano-surfaces
We will be investigating the properties and applications of many new kinds of nanocoatings using the combination of nanoparticle deposition, plasma, magnetron sputtering and thermal evaporation amongst others. Such nano-surfaces exhibit unusual properties because they are structured at the nano-scale. Mechanical, physical, chemical and biological properties can all be affected and subsequently utilised. For instance plasmonic surfaces for optical sensing or nanoparticles for cell binding. We will build up several research themes in this area including the biocompatibility of such surfaces.
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