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Nanoparticles and powders

The majority of all consumer products featuring nanotechnology are related to the class of nanoparticles.  They represent the simplest form of nanotechnology that does not involve work progressing towards integrated devices.  The reason why they are in such widespread use compared to other nanotechnology products right now is mainly due to the fact that they're easy to make and robust in any environment.  Nanopowders are a form of nanoparticles that have found important uses in the field of chemistry.

Let's begin with nanoparticles.  The definition of a nanoparticle is any object with a maximum feature size of 100 nm.  We don't care about quantum effects in nanoparticles since they're not geared towards electronics like quantum dots are.  Nanoparticles are typically some sort of polymer or metal that can act as a coating for another material.  The most obvious example is the famous nano-pant that has a liquid-resistant polymer nanoparticle layer.  The durability of the resistant layer is still being improved, but the pants are proven to be highly water resistant. 

Another proposed application is a sock that can absorb odor.  The proposed sock features nanoparticles of gold that are embedded in the cloth.  Gold is a great catalyst when it's in the form of a nanoparticle.  It can effectively break down agents in your sweat that leave behind nasty foot odors.  Of course, it won't cure your foot problems, but the idea is simply to prevent your socks from smelling likewise.

These are relatively pedestrian examples of nanotechnology.  They only represent the tip of the iceberg.  The true promise of nanotechnology will ultimately lie in what we can produce for electronics and medicine.  However, coatings with nanoparticles will likely find their way into your home without much fanfare.  As manufacturers perfect their coating techniques, you can expect more products to become resistant to a number of wear and odor issues.

In chemistry, nanopowders and nanoparticles are essential ingredients for a variety of chemical reactions.  The thing about catalysts is that they are often a limiting step in a chemical reaction.  Catalysts are restricted in effectiveness by their surface area.  Let's say you have a sphere with a specific spherical surface area.  Now take the same sphere and break it down into many spheres.  You've instantly increased the surface area hundreds, if not thousands of times.  This is the main idea behind creating nano-sized particles for chemical reactions.  It's possible to speed up reactions to ridiculous speeds unheard of in the field of chemistry with just a pinch of nanoparticle catalyst.

While nanoparticles are not the most advanced form of nanotechnology, they serve their purpose well and will be an increasingly important part of daily life.