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Nanotechnology is the engineering of functional systems at the molecular scale - between approximately 1 and 100 nanometers,known as the nanoscale, where unique phenomena enable novel applications. A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter. A sheet of paper is about 100,000 nanometers thick; a single gold atom is about a third or a nanometer in diameter.


Why should I be aware of this?

  • Nanotechnology is rapidly becoming an interdisciplinary field. Biologists, chemists, physicists and engineers are all involved in the study of substances at the nanoscale.
  • Nanotechnology is different from older technologies because many materials exhibit surprising and useful properties when their size is reduced considerably.
  • At the nanoscale, unusual physical, chemical, and biological properties can emerge in materials at the nanoscale. These properties may differ in important ways from the properties of bulk materials and single atoms or molecules.

All about nanotechnology

Science and engineering extended into the nanoscale from both above and below about twenty years ago. However a few examples of what is now called nanotechnology have been discovered of work going back 50 years or even more. Nanoscale gold was found to have been used in stained glass and ceramics as far back as the 10th Century, but it took 10 more centuries before high-powered microscopes were invented for seeing things at the nanoscale.

Potential of nanotechnology

Nanotechnology has the potential to transform and revolutionize multiple technology and industry sectors, including aerospace, agriculture, biotechnology, homeland security and national defense, energy, environmental improvement, information technology, medicine, and transportation. Considerable progress has been made in many areas and it is now possible to identify applications that will impact the world we live in.

Nanowires and Carbon Nanotubes

Nanowires and carbon nanotubes are two nano-size structures which scientists find of special interest today. Nanowires are wires with a very small diameter, which scientists hope to use to build tiny transistors for computer chips and other electronic devices.

A carbon nanotube is a nano-size cylinder of carbon atoms. Even though all carbon nanotubes are made of carbon, they can be very different from one another based on how the individual atoms are aligned.

With the right arrangement of atoms, a carbon nanotube can be created that’s hundreds of times stronger than steel, but six times lighter. Carbon nanotubes will thus make ideal building material and can be used for things like cars and airplanes. Lighter vehicles would mean better fuel efficiency, and the added strength translates to increased passenger safety.

Nanotechnology uses today

  • Nanotechnology is used in many commercial products and processes.
  • By adding nanomaterials composite materials used to make lightweight tennis rackets, baseball bats, and bicycles are made stronger.
  • Nanostructured catalysts are used to make Chemical manufacturing processes more efficient by using nanostructured catalysts. This process saves energy and reduces the waste products.
  • Nanosized particles have been used to reformulate a few pharmaceutical products. This has improved their absorption and made them easier to administer.
  • Nanocoatings are applied to eyeglasses to make them easier to keep clean and harder to scratch.
  • Nanomaterials are applied as coatings on fabrics to make clothing stain resistant and easy to care for.
  • Nanoceramics are used in some dental implants, or to fill holes in bones after removing a bone tumor, because their mechanical and chemical properties can be tuned to match those of the surrounding tissue.
  • During the last one decade some nanomaterials have been used all electronic devices manufactured. Nanotechnology is used much more extensively to build new transistor structures and interconnects for the fastest, most advanced computing chips, introduced in 2007 and 2008.

Future possibilities

  • Clinical trials are in progress for some new nanotechnology-based medicines. Nanoparticles are being used to deliver toxic drugs directly to tumors, while minimizing the amount of drug damages healthy tissue. Medical imaging tools, like MRIs and CAT scans, work better and more safely by using nanoparticles.
  • Nanotechnology is enabling scientists to find ways to make our home, cars, and businesses more energy efficient through new fuel cells, batteries, and solar panels. Ways are also being found to purify drinking water and to detect and clean up environmental waste and damage.
  • Nanosensors in packaging may soon be able to detect food borne pathogens.
  • New nanomaterials will be stronger, lighter and more durable than the materials we use today in buildings, bridges, automobiles, and more.
  • Scientists have experimented with nanomaterials that bend light and may one day be able to create an “invisibility cloak.”


  • Nanotechnology is the understanding and control of matter at dimensions of roughly one to 100 nanometers, where unique phenomena enable novel applications. [1]
  • A nanometer is one billionth of a meter – about one ten-thousandth the diameter of a human hair. [1]
  • Nanotechnology encompasses nanoscale science, engineering and technology, and involves imaging, measuring, modeling, and manipulating matter at this length scale. [1]
  • Nanoscale materials may have organizations and properties different than the same chemical substances displayed at a larger scale. [1]
  • Nanotechnology, by altering materials at a molecular level, allows scientists and engineers to take advantage of nanoscale properties and produce materials that are lighter, stronger, and more reactive than materials made with larger size particles of the same material. [1]
  • Nanotechnology also has the potential for reducing pollution, reducing energy consumption, and cleaning up pollution. [1]

90 degrees

There's a concern that some nanoparticles could be toxic since elements at the nanoscale behave differently than they do in their bulk form. There are also concerns in the medical profession that the nanoparticles are so small, that they could easily cross the blood-brain barrier, a membrane that protects the brain from harmful chemicals in the bloodstream. [2]


  • So what is Nanotechnology?
  • How Nanotechnology Works


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 US ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY
  2. HowStuffWorks