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What is nanoscale?

The term “nanoscale science and technology” (N S & T) refers to the understanding and controlled manipulation of structures and phenomena that have nanoscale dimensions. Scientists have adopted the Greek word nano as a prefix to mean one billionth of a unit of measure. So a nanosecond is one billionth of a second, a nanometer (nm) is one billionth of a meter (m), etc. Over time, man has developed telescopes and microscopes that aid us in “seeing” the world around us. To put the nano or micro universe in perspective with our more familiar world, the spacing of atoms in matter is about 1/10 (10-1) of a nm; a strand of DNA is 2 nm wide; 100,000 (105) nm is about the diameter of a human hair which is about as small as the human eye can resolve; and a six foot person is about 2,000,000,000 (2 x 109) nm tall.

What is nanotechnology?

Nanotechnology is the art and science of manipulating matter at the atomic or molecular scale and may lead to significant improvements in technologies for protecting the environment. Nanoscale structures are already being used for enhanced sensing, and treatment and remediation of environmental contaminants. On the bright side, future developments in nanotechnology may lead to greater control over the design of chemical and engineering technologies, such that pollution may be prevented in the first place. On the other hand, the novel characteristics of nanotechnologies may also lead to unforeseen environmental problems.

So why is it important?

Nanotechnology can provide unprecedented understanding about materials and devices and is likely to impact many fields. By using structure at nanoscale as a tunable physical variable, we can greatly expand the range of performance of existing chemicals and materials. Alignment of linear molecules in an ordered array on a substrate surface (self-assembled monolayers) can function as a new generation of chemical and biological sensors. Switching devices and functional units at nanoscale can improve computer storage and operation capacity by a factor of a million. Entirely new biological sensors facilitate early diagnostics and disease prevention of cancers. Nanostructured ceramics and metals have greatly improved mechanical properties, both in ductility and strength.

Phenomena at the nanometer scale are likely to be a completely new world. Properties of matter at nanoscale may not be as predictable as those observed at larger scales. Important changes in behavior are caused not only by continuous modification of characteristics with diminishing size, but also by the emergence of totally new phenomena such as quantum confinement, a typical example of which is that the color of light emitting from semiconductor nanoparticles depends on their sizes. Designed and controlled fabrication and integration of nanomaterials and nanodevices is likely to be revolutionary for science and technology.

Online resources for nanotechnology

Resources for teachers:


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