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Nanotechnology bears the promise of engineering at an atomic
scale--of assembling atoms in arrangements that are completely
unnatural, thereby creating materials with properties that have
never been seen before. This may sound like science fiction,
but it has been going on for more than 30 years, since the
invention of Molecular Beam Epitaxy (MBE). MBE provides a way
of growing a block of material one sheet of atoms at a time.
By mixing different types of atoms in various combinations,
it is possible to "tune" the properties of the resulting material.
For example, the laser diode in your CD player is probably made
from silicon. It shines a particular wavelength of light
based on the energy gap between the conduction and valence
bands in silicon. That same laser diode could be "tuned" to
emit a different wavelength by building it with a new material
engineered to have a different band gap.
MBE is just one technique for building materials on an atomic
scale. Many other techniques are also under investigation,
including dragging atoms via a Scanning Tunneling Microscope (STM)
tip, and Self-Assembled Monolayers (SAM).
Learn more about material science from the resources available
on this site, listed below.
More information on Material science can be found here.
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nanoHUB.org, a resource for nanoscience and nanotechnology, is supported by the National Science Foundation and other funding agencies.