The technology that lets us look into the incredibly small nano world enables scientists to prove years of scientific discovery and create amazing nano devices.

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  • A nanometer (nm) is a unit of length equivalent to one billionth (10-9) of a meter. For comparison, a single sheet of paper is approximately 100,000 nm thick and a strand of DNA is 2.5 nm across. By studying and controlling matter at this nanoscale (1-100 nm), scientists can alter individual atoms and molecules. These alterations can lead to changes in the physical, chemical, biological, and optical properties of matter. When compared to their larger counterparts, nanoparticles can exhibit more or less strength, flexibility, reactivity, reflectivity, or conductivity.


    After only 20 years of research and development, the creation of nanotechnologies and nanodevices is occurring at a rapid rate. Nanotechnology is aiding and revolutionizing many different aspects of science and industry, including energy, environmental science, homeland security, transportation, food safety, information technology, and medicine. As with any new technology or field of study, it is important to examine the potential for unintended consequences, especially those related to human and environmental health.

    1. What is the common name for the tubular fullerenes (allotropes of carbon) that are used in many different nanotechnologies due to their strength and flexibility? 

      Nanotubes are used in many different nanotechnologies. They are stronger than diamond and more flexible than rubber.

    2. What scientist is responsible for coining the term “nanotechnology”? 

      Dr. Norio Taniguchi, a professor at the Tokyo University of Science, coined the term nanotechnology in 1974.

    3. Microscopes most often used in nanotechnology work by using tiny, precise movements to mechanically scan the nanoparticles. What are the two types of microscopes most often used for this purpose? 

      Scanning tunneling microscopes (STM) and atomic force microscopes (AFM) are most often used in nanotechnology.

    • A single gold atom is about a third of a nanometer in diameter.
    • As far back as the 1930s, scientists could view objects at the nanoscale. It wasn’t until the 1980s that new microscope technologies gave scientists the ability to move and alter individual nanoparticles. 
    • There are 25,400,000 nanometers in 2.5 centimeters (1 inch).
    • Human fingernails grow about one nanometer every second.



National Science Foundation Mysteries of the Unseen World

This material is based in part upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. DRL-0840250. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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