Introduction to Nanoscience
What is nanoscience?
The word itself is a combination of nano,
from the Greek “nanos” (or Latin “nanus”),
meaning “Dwarf”, and the word "Science."
Nano refers to the 10-9 power, or one billionth.
In these terms it refers to a meter, or a nanometer, which
is on the scale of atomic diameters. For comparison, a human
hair is about 100,000 nanometers thick!
Nanoscience is the study of atoms, molecules,
and objects whose size is on the nanometer scale ( 1 - 100
Why is the study of nanoscience different than the same
problems on a larger scale?
Physics is different on the nanometer
scale. Properties not seen on a macroscopic scale now become
important- such as quantum mechanical and thermodynamic
properties. Rather than working with bulk materials, one
works with individual atoms and molecules. By learning about
an individual molecule’s properties, we can put them
together in very well-defined ways to produce new materials
with new and amazing characteristics.
Why is nanoscience suddenly becoming such a big field?
There are multiple reasons for this. One
is availability of new instruments able to “see”
and "touch" at this scale. In the early 1980’s
the scanning tunneling microscope was invented at IBM-Zurich
in Switzerland. This was the first instrument that was able
to “see” atoms. A few years later, the Atomic
Force Microscope was invented, expanding the capabilities
and types of materials that could be investigated. Hence,
Scanning Probe Microscopy was born, and since then multiple
similar techniques have evolved from these instruments to
“see” different properties at the nanometer
scale. In addition, “older” techniques such
as electron microscopy have continued to evolve as well,
and now can image in the nanometer range. Currently, there
are a large number of complementary instruments that help
scientists in the nano realm.
In addition to the enabling technologies,
scientists have realized the future potential of this research.
By convincing politicians and leaders around the world,
countries have instituted initiatives to promote nanoscience
and nanotechnology in their universities and labs. With
the recent increase in funding, many scientists are pursuing
this research and the rate of discovery has increased dramatically.