What is nanotechnology and nanoscience?

alt Nanotechnology is the understanding and utilization of matter on the atomic and molecular scale. A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter. Nanotechnology involves developing materials, structures, or devices where at least 2 dimensions are between 1 and 100 nanometers in size.

Nanoscale engineering, science, and technology have captured the imagination of many scientists and engineers. At the nanometer scale, different disciplines seem to cross their traditional borders and collaborate.

Electrical engineers tend to think of nanotechnology as the "science of making things small" (e.g., smaller to make transistors run faster, use less power, and allow engineers to put more of them in the same space). Some fundamental concepts that electrical engineers grapple with include: 1) Electrons can no longer be treated like classical particles but must be treated quantum mechanically. 2) Materials are no longer continuous and can be subdivided (made smaller) continuously. 3) Materials are made of atoms and that some devices have literally only a few atoms in one of the critical device dimensions. Therefore, a whole device may now "just" have 10 million atoms, or it might even be as small as 50,000 atoms.

Chemists tend to see nanotechnology as the "science of making things big." They grapple with connecting their largest molecules to even larger electronic or photonic structures to have them interact with electric circuits or with light.

Material scientists seem to think of nanotechnology from the perspective of the "science of finite size." Traditionally, material science has dealt with bulk like systems that were treated in infinite size. Alternatively, material science has dealt with very small systems with a few tens of atoms. Now the distinction between “new material” and “new device” is blurring.

For biologists, nanoscale represents the fundamental length scale of a DNA and basic energy conversion. Understanding measurements and chemical details at the 10nm length scale presents a challenge of this community.

Nanotechnology has applications in medicine, energy, information and communication, consumer goods, and more. Some areas are more mature than others. For example, the entire semiconductor industry is now based on nanotechnology. Transistors with critical dimensions of 30nm are being built today and put together into circuits composed of over one billion devices, on one single chip, roughly the size of a thumbnail. In medicine, nanotechnology has led to the development of drug delivery vehicles and diagnostic devices for the detection and treatment of cancer. It is used in tissue engineering to repair damaged tissue and organs. There are advanced uses of nanotechnology in areas of storage, conversion, and renewal of energy – from LEDs to fuel cells to solar cells. Most high-tech information and communication devices use nanoscale production processes. Nanotechnology is also found in everyday consumer goods, such as stain-resistant fibers for clothes, tennis balls, running shoes, cosmetics, and numerous other day-to-day products.


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