Introduction to Nanotechnology Student Handout
Created by UnderstandingNano.com


This lesson was created to give you an introduction to nanotechnology.

I.  The Concept of Nanotechnology

Definition: Nanotechnology is the study and use of structures between 1 nanometer and 100 nanometers in size. 

Question: Can you think of fields where size or weight of materials or products is important?

Reading: Read the Nanotechnology Introduction page (www.understandingnano.com/introduction.html).

Discussion 1: Discuss the basic concepts of nanotechnology, which might include these topics:

  • You learned in this introduction that scientists had to imagine the characteristics of nanoparticles for years before they developed special microscopes that allowed them to see them. Can you think of other situations where scientists had to make assumptions because they couldn't see what they were studying? (Medicine, radioactivity, etc.)
  • Natural or Man-made: From the chart in the Nanotechnology Introduction, compare the size of items in nature and man-made items.  Are nanotechnologists simply trying to unlock the key to how natural elements are designed and created? Discuss the implications if man were able to create things at the very small scale that they exist in nature. You can give examples such as nanorobots providing antibodies to the human body or fabrics that repel water like some plants and animals.

2. Explore an Application of Nanotechnology

Discussion 2: Some scientific fields focus on one type of material or process, such as biology that focuses on living organisms and meteorology that focuses on the weather. What does nanotechnology focus on?

Research and Report:  Read one of the applications pages found in the navigation bar on the UnderstandingNano Web site (www.understandingnano.com/nanotech-applications.html).  Follow links on the site for additional information. Write a brief report on the application you studied. 

3. The Future of Nanotechnology

Explain that nanotechnology has the potential to be a disruptive technology, meaning that it could cause extreme change in our society that could have a variety of consequences. An example of this would be the industrial revolution, which changed the economy of most of our cultures from agrarian to manufacturing based.

Discussion 3: Pick one of these topics :

  • The molecular replicator (www.understandingnano.com/molecular-manufacturing.html), once developed, could allow people to simply produce many items they need themselves with no need for a company to manufacturer those products. What would this do to our economy as we know it today? Discuss the potential impact on manufacturing, distribution channels (trucking, rail, and so on), and employment.
  • In the world of medicine nanotechnology could change the human lifespan (www.understandingnano.com/medicine.html). Repairs at the cellular level could stop and even reverse aging. If everybody could live hundreds of years, what would happen to our world? Would only an elite few get such treatment and what consequences would that have? If nobody ever died, would people have to stop having children to avoid overpopulation? What would that mean to our society?

As directed by your teacher you can hold a discussion with the entire class, or break up into smaller groups with some groups making an argument for the benefits of these changes, and the other groups arguing the case that such changes would bring more harm than good to our society.

Optional Activity: Prepare a PowerPoint slide show for your arguments and present it to the class.

Conclusion: Nanotechnology offers great potential for advancement, and, as with any scientific breakthrough, it also raises ethical and societal questions.

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