What is Nanotechnology? You Tell Me...

nanometerl.jpg What is Nanotechnology? What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word ‘Nanotechnology’? I asked this question to Tweeters all over the world (or at least those within the reach of my Twitter network!) As a scientist studying the world of ‘nano’, thinking on the scale of 1/billionth of a meter comes naturally. But I am interested to know whether the general reader, or even the general scientist, has a clear picture of what goes on in the world at such a small scale.

Here is a (hopefully still growing) list of Tweeted answers.
Tweet @FromTheLabBench to give your own!

Improving Nano-Communications:


Molecular Machines:


Motor Proteins at work for Nanotechnology, Science 2007
bq. “The biological cell is equipped with a variety of molecular machines that perform complex mechanical tasks such as cell division or intracellular transport. One can envision employing these biological motors in artificial environments. (This article reviews) the progress that has been made in using motor proteins for powering or manipulating nanoscale components.” The imitation through design or actual physical harnessing of naturally occurring molecular motors like kinesin linear motors might well pave the way to molecular machines and nanorobots with applications in medicine.

Nano-Robots and a bit of Grey Goo:


Size-Dependent Properties: Why Size Matters


Separating Science Fact from Science Fiction: A bit of Both


Nanotechnology has implications for everyone, scientists and non-scientists alike. As more and more products incorporate nanoscale components, from reinforced metals and other composite materials, to sunscreens, to solar panels, to anti-cancer drugs, to cosmetic creams, it has become important that the general public understand the basic notions of ‘nano’. Faced with a growing impact of nanotechnology in our daily lives, we need to be given the knowledge and tools to separate fact from science fiction, to separate real science-backed safety concerns from stories of Grey Goo. This knowledge, and separation of fact from fiction, can begin with better ‘nano’-science writing. We need better communications on the Nanotechnology front. Are scientists studying the world of Nano doing their part to translate their work, not just for the general scientist, but for the general reader? The NISE Network, Nanoscale Informal Science Education, is leading where other scientists should follow, engaging the public in nanoscale science through educational resources and more.

What is Nano? These definitions might help: (from DiscoverNano, Northwestern University)

Nanoscale = At least one dimension (height, length, depth) that measures between 1 and 999 nanometers (1-999 nm). One nanometer (1 nm) is one billionth of a meter.

Nanoscience = The area of science where the dimensions play a critical role, in the range of 1 to 100 nanometers. At these dimensions, objects often behave and have properties, both chemical and physical, that objects of the same material but at the macro-scale (the scale you can observe with your naked eye) do not have. These Size-dependent properties “are the major reason that nanoscale objects have such amazing potential.”

Nanotechnology = The application of nanoscale materials and properties to solve a problem or serve a purpose. The field of Nanotechnology has many different areas of research. They include (DiscoverNano):

1) Developing new tools to measure, and new chemistry to make, highly miniaturized structures. This area of research includes the development of such tools as electron microscopes, which can visualize objects much smaller than the wavelength of light, and new chemical techniques to create intricate structures, for example hollow gold nanocages for cancer therapy.

2) Identifying the chemical and physical changes that occur at the nanoscale.

3) Using the chemical and physical changes that occur at the nanoscale to develop new technologies, in areas as diverse as medicine, renewable energy, materials, and other commercial products.

These are just a few examples of the applications of nanotechnology.