Nanoscience and Technology

Nanoscience and Technology

The word 'nanotechnology' is derived from the Greek word for dwarf (nanos). It is broadly defined as the engineering and application of functional systems at the molecular scale.

One nanometer (1 nm) is 0.0000000001m (or 10-9m) or about 50,000 times smaller than the diameter of a single human hair.

A nanometer can be thought of as the length an average man's beard grows in the time it takes him to lift the razor to his face.

If a nanoparticle was the size of a football then a watermelon would be as big as the earth.

Life at the nanoscale

Entering the invisible universe of the nanoparticle is a trip into the unknown. This is in more than just visibility terms. 

Nanoparticles exhibit very different characteristics to those of matter visible to the naked eye. This is because material properties are highly size-dependent.

For example, if you were nano-sized and dived into a swimming pool you would find that the water would be more like treacle. 

Uses of nanotechnology and nanoscience

While the coining of the term may be relatively recent, nanotechnology itself has been around for several millennia. 

In ancient times the Romans used nanoparticles to create colourful ceramics. Manufacturers have used nanoparticles in the production of rubber tyres since the early 20th century. 

Now in the 21st century many uses for nanotechnology are already widespread in modern life. Nanoparticles can be found in many common household items including:

  • suncream and cosmetics
  • golf clubs
  • stain-repellent clothing
  • wound dressings
  • food packaging

The Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies estimates that 3-4 new nanotech products hit the market every week. This is due to the almost unlimited number of potential applications of nanotechnology.

A search of the esp@cenet patent database reveals over 20,000 patents worldwide containing the word 'nano'. As techniques for molecular manipulation improve this number is likely to increase rapidly.

Find out more about our research in nanoscience and technology.