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Name: Ameya
Status: other
Grade: 4-5
Location: IN

What is nanotechnology and nanoscience?

Greetings Ameya,

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,
Burr Zimmerman

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