Nanoscience combines science, engineering, and technology to study matter and processes at the nanoscale. The nanoscale is based on the nanometer, a unit of length equivalent to one billionth (10-9) of a meter. Nanotechnology can be applied across all fields of science, including chemistry, geology, biology, physics, engineering, and materials science. By working at the atomic level, scientists can alter the physical, chemical, biological, and optical properties of matter.
Nanotechnology applications are highly varied and have impacted a number of scientific and industrial sectors. More than 600 nanotechnology-based consumer products are currently on the market, ranging from enhanced sunscreens and stronger, lighter sports equipment to antimicrobial and stain-proof fabrics. Nanotechnology has led to the development of increasingly smaller electronics and computer components, including processors and batteries. Other developing applications include sustainable energy devices and satellites that are more efficient, food products that are tastier and more nutritious, and water treatment methods that remove harmful pollutants.
One of the most promising aspects of nanotechnology, both now and in the future, is nanomedicine. Nanotechnology has the potential to revolutionize the way medicine is practiced and how humans approach their own healthcare. Nanomedicine technologies currently being used include enhanced images for medical diagnostics, procedures for finding clogged arteries and detecting the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, focused treatments for different forms of cancer, and the creation of artificial tissues to repair diseased organs and nerves. As with any new technology or field of study, it is important to examine the potential for unintended consequences, especially as they relate to human and environmental health.
- Although nanotechnology is a relatively new field of science, nanoscale materials have been used for centuries. Medieval churches used different sizes of gold and silver particles to create colors in their stained glass windows.
- Nanotechnology researchers are developing thin-film solar electric panels and nanowires to power mobile electronic devices. The nanowires will convert light, friction, and/or body heat into usable energy to power the devices.
- Nanotechnology has helped create batteries that are less flammable, more efficient, lighter weight, and able to hold their charge longer.
- Nanoparticle films can make objects like eyeglasses, computer displays, and windows water-repellent, anti-glare, self-cleaning, anti-fog, antimicrobial, and scratch-resistant.
- Research is being done to create nano-based chemicals capable of cleaning up industrial water pollutants.
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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