Our comprehensive introduction to nanotechnology and nanoscience
with lots of information, examples and images
How Does Nanotechnology Work?
Nanotechnology is the understanding and control of matter at the nanometer scale, where unique phenomena enable novel applications. Encompassing nanoscale science, engineering, and technology, nanotechnology involves imaging, measuring, modeling, and manipulating matter at this length scale.
Nanotechnologies involve the design, characterization, production, and application of nanoscale structures, devices, and systems that produces structures, devices, and systems with at least one novel/superior characteristic or property.
At the core of nanotechnology is the fact that the properties of materials can be different at the nanoscale for two main reasons:
First, nanomaterials have a relatively larger surface area when compared to the same mass of material produced in a larger form. This can make materials more chemically reactive (in some cases materials that are inert in their larger form are reactive when produced in their nanoscale form), and affect their strength or electrical properties.
Second, so-called quantum effects can begin to dominate the behaviour of matter at the nanoscale - particularly at the lower end – affecting the optical, electrical and magnetic behavior of materials.
Nanotechnology and the future of advanced materials
Nanotechnology future products are based on the present and future developments of a large spectrum of nanomaterials. The development of a huge variety of nanomaterials will lead to a radically new approach to manufacturing materials and devices.
Basically, every aspect of our lives will be impacted. Faster computers, advanced pharmaceuticals, controlled drug delivery, biocompatible materials, nerve and tissue repair, crackproof surface coatings, better skin care and protection, more efficient catalysts, better and smaller sensors, even more efficient telecommunications, these are just some areas where nanomaterials will have a major impact.
We've also compiled a brief overview of some current applications of nanomaterials such as nanocomposites, nanoclays, nanocoatings and nanostructured surfaces, and nanolubricants. Most of them represent evolutionary developments of existing technologies: for example, the reduction in size of electronics devices.
The basic building blocks: nanoparticles
Nanoparticles, which have been produced on an industrial scale for quite some time already, are used in a broad spectrum of applications and many products. So, what are nanoparticles? There is no simple answer. The diversity of synthetic (i.e. man-made) nanoparticles is considerable. They are distinct in their properties and applications. In addition to their size, synthetic nanoparticles vary in chemical composition, shape, surface characteristics and mode of production.
In the framework of nanotechnology, the term nano”= refers almost exclusively to particle length. This means that those objects that extend in two dimensions from 1 to several 100 nm are designated as nanoparticles. This, however, also includes filamentous objects such as nanotubes. For a classification of nanoscale dimensions see our Nanotechnology FAQs.
Take for example nanotechnology in medicine. The medical advances that may be possible through nanotechnology range from diagnostic to therapeutic. In dianostics, the ultimate goal is to enable physicians to identify a disease as early as possible. Nanomedicine is expected to make diagnosis possible at the cellular and even the sub-cellular level.
In terms of therapy, the most significant impact of nanomedicine is expected to be realized in drug delivery and regenerative medicine. Nanoparticles enable physicians to target drugs at the source of the disease, which increases efficiency and minimizes side effects. They also offer new possibilities for the controlled release of therapeutic substances. Nanoparticles are also used to stimulate the body’s innate repair mechanisms. A major focus of this research is artificial activation and control of adult stem cells.
However, as with nanotechnology in general, there is danger of derailing nanomedicine if the study of ethical, legal and social implications does not catch up with scientific developments: nanotechnology applications in medicine face a range of ethical issues.
Physicists, chemists and biologists each view nanotechnology as a branch of their own subject, and collaborations in which they each contribute equally are common. One result is the hybrid field of nanobiotechnology (also used are the terms bionanotechnology, biomedical nanotechnology or nanomedicine) that uses biological starting materials, biological design principles or has biological or medical applications.
Combining nanotechnology with biotechnology could for instance lead to molecular prosthetics – nanoscale components that can repair or replace defective cellular components such as ion channels or protein signaling receptors. Another result will be intracellular imaging to highlight early disease markers in routine screening.