Nanotechnology is the study of science, engineering, and technology at the nanoscale, which is about 1 to 100 nanometers.
Nanoscience and nanotechnology are the study and use of very small things. They can be used in chemistry, biology, physics, materials science, and engineering, among other science fields.
What Started It All
Richard Feynman, a physicist, gave a talk called “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom” at an American Physical Society meeting at the California Institute of Technology (CalTech) on December 29, 1959. This was a long time before the word “nanotechnology” was used. During his talk, Feynman talked about a way for scientists to move and control individual atoms and molecules. Professor Norio Taniguchi came up with the word “nanotechnology” when he was looking into ultraprecision machining more than a decade later. Modern nanotechnology didn’t start until 1981 when the scanning tunneling microscope was invented. This made it possible to “see” individual atoms.
Nanoscience and nanotechnology’s most important ideas
Nanotechnology is so small that it’s hard to picture. One nanometer is equal to 10-9 of a meter, which is a billionth of a meter. Here are a few examples to show what I mean:
- One inch is made up of 25,400,000 nanometers.
- A sheet of paper is approximately 100,000 nanometers thick.
- If a marble were a nanometer, then one meter would be the same size as the Earth.
Nanoscience and nanotechnology involve being able to see and control atoms and molecules on a very small scale. Everything on Earth is made up of atoms, including the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the buildings and houses we live in, and our own bodies.
But you can’t see an atom with your own eyes because it’s too small. In fact, you can’t see it with the microscopes that high school science classes usually use. In the early 1980s, the first microscopes that could see things on the nanoscale were made.
Nanotechnology started when scientists got the right tools, like the scanning tunneling microscope (STM) and the atomic force microscope (AFM).
Even though nanoscience and nanotechnology are fairly new, materials on the nanoscale have been used for hundreds of years. The colors in the stained glass windows of medieval churches were made of gold and silver particles of different sizes. The artists back then just didn’t know that the way they made these beautiful works of art changed the way the materials they were using were put together.
Scientists and engineers are finding a lot of different ways to make materials on the nanoscale on purpose so they can take advantage of their better properties, such as being stronger, lighter, easier to control the light spectrum, and more chemically reactive than materials on a larger scale.
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