What is Nanotechnology?

Nanotechnology is the study and engineering of things that are very, very small!

Just how small? The nanoscale deals with things that are less than 100 nanometers (nm) in size.

What is a nanometer anyway? It is one billionth of a meter. That is, if you take a meter (about a yard) and divide it into 1,000,000,000 pieces, each piece is a nanometer across.

That seems really small. How can you see anything at that small? It is really small! Scientists have invented many powerful instruments to help us study things that are very small, such as scanning electron microscopes, transmission electron microscopes, scanning tunneling microscopes, and atomic force microscopes.

Why is 100 nm important? It turns out that when you make things really small, sometimes about below 100 nm, or in some cases below 10 nm, they start behaving strangely from what you would expect. Scientists and engineers can take advantage of the strange properties of materials at the nanoscale to make interesting and useful technologies.

So, what is nanotechnology good for? Some examples of where nanotechnology is found in applications:

  • Metals with internal nanoscale features that make them extra strong
  • Computer chips found in laptops and smartphones have nanoscale devices that make fast calculations and take up little space
  • Catalysts with nanoscale dimensions to make chemical reactions go faster
  • Quantum dots in displays for TVs