What is Nanotechnology? How Small is a Nano?

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What is nanotechnology?

First of all let us begin with the definition of the term nanotechnology and what is meant by it. Nanotechnology is made up of the combination of two words = Nano + Technology. The former stands for one-billionth or 10 raised to the power -9, hence it deals with technology at the nano scale. If you remember something about the chemistry that you read during your schooldays, you will recollect that this represents the scale of the size of atoms and molecules. To give a more explicit idea about the size of nano – a human hair is several thousand of nanometers thick in diameter. Nanotechnology deals with the fabrication and manipulation of materials at the nanometer scale usually 100 nanometers or less, and is a mixture of sciences and technologies from varied and diverse backgrounds including but not limited to physics, chemistry, electronics engineering and biological engineering to name a few. Given below are some comparisons from real life so that you can digest the size of a nanometer.

* One very interesting comparison of the nanotechnology was given in the National Geographic magazine in the June 2006 issue, that 1 nanometer is that length to which the beard of a person grow in the time that he raises his shaving razor from the table to face level.

  • Size of virus – of the order of around 10 nm
  • Size of bacteria – of the order of around 100 nm
  • Bond length between Carbon atoms in Diamond – of the order of 0.15 nm

How old is the concept of nanotechnology?

Whenever we tend to hear a name which sounds very sophisticated, we usually assume that this technology or science has a fairly recent origin and similar is the case with nanotechnology. Although it is true that nanotechnology as a specialized discipline is of fairly recent origin, the underlying principles have been around for a long time. Now we know that even in processes which existed long ago such as the manufacture of steel, human beings unknowingly used the science of nanotechnology since changes in crystalline structure and at atomic and molecular scales were being carried out using external stimuli such as variations in temperature of the material and heating/cooling rates of the same.

A researcher foresaw the use of nanotechnology in the manufacture of integrated circuits of increasing density in what is know as the Moore’s law in which he stated that the number of transistors in integrated circuits would continue to grow exponentially for a decade, nearly doubling every two years. Of course this prediction was made as early as 1965 and has far outlived its own lifespan and we still continue to see this growth. Just in case you are interested, the person who made this prediction was none other than the co-founder of one of the most successful companies, namely Intel, the name that needs no introduction.

We will learn more about this fascinating technology in a later series of nanotechnology articles as this is too wide and varied a subject to be satisfactorily covered in one go….so just keep a lookout for them.