Nanotechnology Definitions

To help you understand exactly what nanotechnology is, we'll provide a definition or two.

Pinning down a definition of nanotechnology

Because nanotechnology is still evolving, there doesn’t seem to be any one definition that everybody agrees on. We know that nano deals with matter on a very small scale - larger than atoms and molecules, but smaller than a breadcrumb. We know that matter at the nano scale can behave differently than bulk matter.  

Beyond that, different individuals and groups focus on different aspects of nanotechnology as a discipline. Here are a few definitions of  what nanotechnology is for your consideration:

  • Nanotechnology is the study and use of structures between 1 nanometer (nm) and 100 nanometers in size. 

This is probably the most barebones and generally agreed upon definition of nanotechnology. To put these measurements in perspective, compare your one meter (about three feet three inches) high hall table to a nanometer. You would have to stack one billion nanometer-sized particles on top of each other to reach the height of your hall table. Another popular comparison is that you can fit about 80,000 nanometers in the width of a single human hair.

The word nano is a scientific prefix that stands for 10-9 or one-billionth; the word itself comes from the Greek word nanos, meaning dwarf.

  • “Structures, devices, and systems having novel properties and functions due to the arrangement of their atoms on the 1 to 100 nanometer scale. Many fields of endeavor contribute to nanotechnology, including molecular physics, materials science, chemistry, biology, computer science, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering.”

This definition from The Foresight Institute adds a mention of the various fields of science that come into play with nanotechnology.

  • “Nanotechnology is the study of phenomena and fine-tuning of materials at atomic, molecular and macromolecular scales, where properties differ significantly from those at a larger scale. Products based on nanotechnology are already in use and analysts expect markets to grow by hundreds of billions of euros during this decade.”

The European Commission offers this definition of what nanotechnology is, which both repeats the fact mentioned in the previous definition that materials at the nanoscale have novel properties, and positions nano vis-a-vis its potential in the economic marketplace.

  •  “Nanotechnology is the understanding and control of matter at dimensions between approximately 1 and 100 nanometers, where unique phenomena enable novel applications. Encompassing nanoscale science, engineering, and technology, nanotechnology involves imaging, measuring, modeling, and manipulating matter at this length scale.”

This definition from the National Nanotechnology Initiative adds the fact that nanotechnology involves certain activities, such as measuring and manipulating nanoscale matter.

  • “[Nanotechnology is] an upcoming economic, business, and social phenomenon. Nano-advocates argue it will revolutionize the way we live, work and communicate.”

This last is taken from a definition of nanotechnology by Thomas Theis, director of physical sciences at the IBM Watson Research Center. It offers a broader and interesting perspective of the role and value of nanotechnology in our world.

Excerpted from Nanotechnology For Dummies (2nd edition), from Wiley Publishing


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