Nanotechnology and Nanoscience
What is nanotechnology and nanoscience?
Nano-science and what we hope ultimately becomes nano-technology is a
very fashionable way to say science of the very small. Nano-science is
the study of nature on the very small scale and nano-technology is when
that knowledge is applied to make nano-sized things with a particular
purpose or use. Applying the word "nano" has become very popular with
current progress in science, though in fact people have been doing what
qualifies as nano-science since the mid part of the 20th century.
"Very small" means roughly objects a few hundred nano-meters in size
down the size of a few atoms and molecules. A rule of thumb would be
anything too small to see with visible light and larger than an
individual atom is "nano-scale." On these length scales, quite tiny
indeed, nature can behave in what we consider classical science (which
is perhaps easier to interpret) as well as quantum science (which is
often bizarre and strange at first). Often materials and objects can
exhibit some properties of each.
Things of this size are very important to the technological age in which
we live. There are many ways that nano-technology already directly
influences your life. Both the electronics in your computer and the
hard disk drive where your data is kept use nano-technology. The most
interesting (in my opinion) nano-technology is what nature has evolved
inside us all. The basic building blocks of life all qualify as
"bio-nano-technology." Were I a betting person, I would place good odds
that the coming century will be known for the understanding and eventual
application of biological nano-scale things. The implications for
medicine and quality of life are astounding.
I would be remiss if I did not at least mention that there is a great
deal of science done at much, much smaller distances. Nano science
stops roughly at the point of individual atoms. There are entire
branches of science that study individual atoms (atomic physics), the
parts of an atom (nuclear physics), and the parts of the parts (high
energy particle physics). So despite nano-science being concerned with
things which are very small compared to you and I, there are people
studying things much, much smaller!
Michael S. Pierce
Materials Science Division
Argonne National Laboratory
Nanotechnology and Nanoscience refer to the study and use of things that are
very, very small. How small? It's hard to describe. People generally think
of 'nanoscale' as 100 nanometers or less. A nanometer is 0.000000001 meters
-- but perhaps a more useful way to think of it is 1000 times smaller than a
hair on your head. Individual bacteria are thousands of nanometers in size.
The tiny soot particles in smoke may be nanoscale, but they may be too big
to be nanoscale. Individual molecules -- like a protein molecule -- are
nanoscale. Nanoscale things are so small, you cannot even use light to see
them (I do not mean they are too small for the human eye to see, I mean
they are too small to be seen with light). You have to use other tools like
electron microscopes or atomic force microscopes to see them.
Things that are nano can be very weird and fascinating. With nanotechnology,
things work in strange ways. For example, if you break gold into very small
particles, it does not look 'gold-colored' anymore. Instead, the size of the
particles determines their color -- gold particles of one size might be red,
while another size might be blue. "Big" things just do not work that way. The
most basic building blocks of life -- like proteins and DNA -- are
nanoscale, and it turns out scientists can study and use individual
molecules of them.
Hope this helps,
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Update: June 2012