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One of the biggest scientific trends of the 21st century has been centered on something incredibly small: nanotechnology. You’ve read about it in the papers, heard glowing reports on television, and perhaps you’ve enjoyed reading about the possibilities of nanotechnology in science fiction.
But what is nanotechnology? That is the most difficult question to answer, even though it’s all over the news these days. The crux of the problem is that it is beyond the understanding of most people. Unless you’ve studied it extensively in university (and even then the picture isn’t necessarily complete, trust me) you won’t know what a quantum dot is, or what an atomic force microscope does. To understand what nanotechnology is, you need to accurately encapsulate the academic struggle that is going on as we speak. You’ll need to know the underlying science that drives it, the tools we use to apply it, and the potential benefits and dangers of it.
Just a word of warning before we continue: I’ll be using metric units throughout these extensive discussions. No one does nanotechnology with US Imperial units. Let’s run through the units of length from largest to smallest
m = meter (the metric standard unit of length, or 39.4 inches)
cm = centimeter (100 cm per m, or 10-2 m)
mm = millimeter (1000 mm per m, or 10-3 m)
mm = micrometer (1,000,000 mm per m, or 10-6 m)
nm = nanometer (1,000,000,000 nm per m, or 10-9 m)
Å = angstrom (10,000,000,000 Å per m, or 10-10 m)
Nanotechnology is a broad term for the application of scientific understanding towards fabricating devices and materials at the nanometer scale.
To give you a perspective, consider that the computer you are using right now uses a wide array of micro technology. Computer processors are often fabricated using processes in the micrometer regime. The latest processors are encroaching on the nanometer regime with new Extreme-Ultra-Violet lithography that pushes the envelope with 0.09 mm feature sizes (which converts to 90 nm).
In order to qualify for the term nanotechnology, the yardstick (if you forgive the archaic reference) is about 20 nm or less for the constraining feature size. That’s about the size when you start seeing significantly new forces governing the behavior of materials. We’ll discuss this shortly in the science sections.
As we move through our nanotechnology series, I’ll cover the bare essentials starting with the basic scientific principles that we seek to take advantage of in the nanoscale regime.
Once we have covered the science, we will quickly move on to the major synthesis methods utilized by researchers around the world.
The next sections will deal with the tools we use to create nanotechnology along with the potential benefits of nanotechnology in its various forms.
At the end we will discuss nanotechnology and its close ties with educational institutions and researchers around the world.
Yes, that is it for the basic overview of nanotechnology. The topic is too broad to spend discussing it on a superficial level. Read on for more information!