To help you understand exactly what nanotechnology is, we'll provide a definition or two.
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:
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.
This definition from The Foresight Institute adds a mention of the various fields of science that come into play with nanotechnology.
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.
This definition from the National Nanotechnology Initiative adds the fact that nanotechnology involves certain activities, such as measuring and manipulating nanoscale matter.
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