What is Nanotechnology?
Nanotechnology is the creation of materials, devices, and systems using individual atoms and molecules. The word comes from the prefix nano-, which means one billionth. Nanotechnology uses particles that are 1/80,000 the diameter of a human hair. At such a small scale, new physical, chemical, and biological properties become evident.
How big is "Nano?"
What is nanotechnology?
You are very excited as you and your friend approach the naval base. You can see the ships in the distance. The ships look small because you are still far away from them. You hold your thumb out in front of you and you are able to "cover" the ships with your thumb. You know the ships are actually quite large.
You realize how small you are compared to the aircraft carrier when you stand on the pier beside it. If you could stand the aircraft carrier on its end, it would be almost as tall as the Empire State Building in New York City. The sailors standing on the deck are almost a football field length above your head!
The size of the ship compared to you causes you to remember the cool science lesson you studied at school last week. Your teacher taught a lesson about nanotechnology. It sounded hard to understand, at first. Even the name - nanotechnology - was hard to pronounce. It got easier to understand when your teacher told you nanotechnology studies objects that are really small compared to humans.
Your teacher started with simple definitions for big and small numbers. The word nanotechnology was invented in 1981. The Greek word "nanos" means "dwarf." Nano- means "one billionth." A nanometer is one billion times smaller than a meter. You know atoms are so small we can't see them individually with our eyes. A nanometer is actually bigger than an atom. It is as wide as 10 hydrogen atoms placed side-by-side. You need 10,000 nanometers side-by-side to equal the thickness of one of your hairs.
Other ways to understand a nanometer's size are these:
One thousand times smaller than a bacterium
One million times smaller than a pinhead;
One billion times smaller than your leg is long.
Most microscopes can only see objects that are 200 nanometers wide. If we have so much trouble seeing something this small, why should we study nanotechnology? Nanotechnology is basically a method that lets scientists make things by arranging atoms and molecules into certain shapes. Nature has arranged atoms for - well, forever. Man now has the ability to do the same thing.
What have we done so far with nanotechnology? Computers are getting better and faster as we make their parts smaller. You may have seen TV commercials for glasses made of metal frames that bend but will return to their normal shape without damage. Golf clubs can be made of special materials that have atoms arranged in ways that make the metal twice as hard as titanium. One company makes pants that are waterproof and will last a long time before they wear out by using nanotechnology to rearrange the atoms in the material.
The future for nanotechnology sounds as though science fiction may come true. Research is underway to produce nanorobots. These tiny robots could be sent into your body through a needle. Nanorobots could take special medicine through your body to specific locations. They could also be trained to look for and destroy bad cells such as cancer. It is even possible that nanorobots could rearrange atoms in your body that could change your nose, ears, or even eye color. They could also unclog and repair blood vessels.
Manipulating atoms may also allow us to make materials without processes that cause pollution. If we can make such products, the cost to buy them might drop. Some scientists are hopeful we could send nanorobots high into our atmosphere to make more ozone.
Your friend shakes you to take you away from your daydream about nanotechnology. You see (again) how small you are while standing on the pier next to the aircraft carrier. This comparison easily reminds you of nanotechnology - the BIG scientific study of the very SMALL.
Why a focus on nanotechnology?
It’s exciting work. Nanotech combines the frontier spirit of a gold rush and the mystical quest of alchemy. It creates precious materials. By better controlling the structure of matter at the smallest scale, it will probably change the very nature of manufacturing. We may even be watching the birth process of a new age.
Tech Valley is a good place to learn more. As a center of government and research, the area offers plenty of opportunities to learn about nanotechnology. Here’s a small sample:
- In its annual ranking of nanotechnology’s hottest regions, Small Times magazine names New York state as # 4. In the research category, it ranks # 2 behind California. The University at Albany is the top of its class nationally in both facilities and industry outreach.
- The Incubator for Nanotechnology Ventures, Emerging Sciences, and Technologies or INVEST at Russell Sage College, a women’s college in Troy, will house businesses that develop products related to nanotechnology. It will give undergraduate women a chance at high-tech internships and make it easier to see women working in scientific fields. Evident Technologies, Inc. a firm that develops nanomaterials used in medical research and other applications, will be the first tenant. INVEST is funded jointly by businesses, state grants and the college.
- Local scientists enrich high school science with hands-on laboratory experiences such as the virtual polymer laboratory web site. It’s part of a Bring Nanotechnology to the Classroom project, coordinated by Rensselaer Professor Chang Ryu.
- The world’s first Molecularium ™ places viewers amid molecules at the Children’s Museum of Science and Technology in North Greenbush, NY. For an on-line review of the 25-minute animation see “The lighter side of nano” in Small Times.
- Several two-year community colleges worked with SEMATECH, the non-profit research and development consortium of U.S. semiconductor manufacturers, to develop a two-year semiconductor manufacturing technology (SMT) degree program. Among these are two Tech Valley community colleges, Hudson Valley Community College and a consortium of community colleges in the lower Hudson Valley. They prepare skilled technicians for work in fields such as semiconductor fabrication, micro-electro-mechanical systems and nanotechnology.
Students will have a choice of good jobs.
Nano scale science is just beginning to lead to commercial enterprises that are enabled by new materials or by old materials applied in new ways. At this stage, research institutions and small firms provide most jobs. According to a Business Week cover story, however, “Engineers working at the nano scale have a brand-new tool kit that’s full of wonder and brimming with potential riches. Now it’s time to start cashing in.”
It’s a small world after all
Imagine the world if we meet this Nanotech Challenge (from the Foresight Institute)
- Meeting global energy needs with clean solutions
- Providing abundant clean water globally
- Increasing the health and longevity of human life
- Maximizing the productivity of agriculture
- Making powerful information technology available everywhere
- Enabling the development of space
Nanotech tools are finally starting to affect us all. According to USA Today technology columnist Kevin Maney “Nanotech isn’t just a lab experiment anymore. It’s spreading fast and in some surprising ways. It’s becoming this generation’s plastic, about to spread to every part of our lives.”
Nanotech is also bringing the world to New York’s Tech Valley. The College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering at the University at Albany works in partnership with NanoQuébec and one of the largest nanoelectronics research laboratories in Europe, as well as research facilities in Mexico, Germany and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University in the Bronx.
The big picture: why science, math and technology matter
They’re essential for everyone. On a practical level, ours is a technology-driven economy with an increasing number of jobs requiring technical skills. But there are other reasons too:
- Learning about technology will mean more opportunities to succeed, whether or not a student wants to work in fields related to math, science and engineering.
- Boosting awareness of the importance of technology increases esteem for jobs and encourages more students to pursue careers in science and engineering.
- Technological literacy can help narrow the wage gap—and related shortage of skills—between salaried workers with higher education and hourly workers without it.
- Technological literacy can provide a tool for dealing with rapid changes. The kind of thinking that comes from engineering (considering risks, benefits, trade-offs) helps us make sense of the world.
- There’s a technical component to most current political, legal and ethical issues, from global warming to protecting privacy in the information age.
- We know that students are more likely to succeed when they see academic knowledge and skills applied in the workplace. With high-tech companies moving to New York’s Capital Region and the workplace changing in fundamental ways, it’s more important than ever to help students meet New York state’s CDOS standards (Learning Standards for Career Development and Occupational Studies).
Good jobs are available at many levels. High-tech fields like nanotechnology depend on a workforce that falls generally into four classifications—scientists, engineers, technicians and operators. Starting on a high tech career path is possible directly after high school. In addition, nanotechnology businesses are more likely to hire technologically literate staff for non-tech positions.
Current Applications of Nanotechnology
Links for Nanotechnology
University of Wisconsin-Madison www.mrsec.wisc.edu/Edetc/index.html
National Nanotechnology Initiative www.nano.gov/html/edu/eduteach.html
Cornell University www.cns.cornell.edu/cipt/labs/lab-index.html
A few ideas of easy demonstrations (with lesson plans)
Cutting it Down to Nano- a paper and scissors demonstration of how small a nanometer really is.
Color-changing gold particles- an easy way to make gold nanoparticles that change color when they change size.
The Oven Mitt Challenge- thinking about the challenges associated with working with nanoscale materials and how science helps. Of course we could use oven mitts typing on a keyboard!!!
What is it?
How small is it?
Who works on it?
Why is it important?
Answers to the above questions can be found at www.nanozone.org
http://www.techvalleycareers.org/Sect_Career/Nanotechnology/index.cfm [website no longer exists]
“Nano,” short for nanometer, is one-billionth of a meter. (That’s a thousand million!) A nanometer-sized particle is smaller than a living cell and can be seen only with the most powerful microscopes. The width of a human hair is 20,000 to 80,000 nanometers.
According to “Nanotech’s fascinating future,” it’s a “behind-the-scenes technology, somewhat invisible, like the nanotech devices themselves. Rather than being an industry or sector unto itself, nanotechnology is really just a set of tools that can be used to improve on the manufacturing process of just about any product.”
Nanotechnology involves controlling or manipulating materials on the atomic scale (1-100 nanometers). It means creating or using structures, devices or systems that are so small that they have amazing properties. In nanoscale structures, for example, it is possible to control fundamental characteristics of a material such as its melting point, magnetic properties and even color without changing the material’s chemical composition. The science behind the technology, nanoscience, is where physics, chemistry and biology collide.
While physicist Richard Feynman predicted in 1959 that one day we would have tools just the right size for directly manipulating atoms and molecules, only since the 1990s have these tools led to commercial applications. About 20,000 researchers work in the field today, but by 2020 about 2 million workers will be needed to support nanotechnology industries according to the U. S. government’s National Nanotechnology Initiative.
Nanoscience is becoming such a big field in part because there are new instruments able to see and touch at the nano scale—the scanning tunneling microscope and the atomic force microscope, for example. It’s easy to make a virtual visit to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s research facilities to see these instruments.
Already, the nanoworld is changing the big world. Electronic devices, and the semiconductors that make them possible, are shrinking. Nanosystems and MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical systems) are whole new manufacturing technologies making possible whole new product categories.
What nanotechnology makes possible:
Iron nanoparticles have removed up to 96% of a major contaminant (trichloroethylene) from ground water at an industrial site.
Surgical nanobots will operate from within the human body. Examples such as implantable insulin-dispensing devices and miniature cochlea ear implants already exist.
Electronic ink on paper-thin, flexible electronic paper can display moving text and images.
Synthetic DNA can be used in robotics, cloned life forms and synthetic human organs.
Stuffdust is a nano material used to mark computers and other objects with serial numbers able to be read with an optical microscope but invisible to the naked eye. The new material makes inventory and theft control easier.
Biodegradable implants, made of polymers, function for a specific period of time while the body heals itself and then degrade into non-toxic products. These include sutures and stainless steel implants.
The Oven Mitten Challenge Of course we could use oven mitts typing on a keyboard!!!
Nanotechnology in Tech Valley—what's going on?
http://www.techvalleycareers.org/Sect_Career/Nanotechnology/index.cfm [link no longer exists]
Solar revolution closer to reality
Anna Dyson, founder of Materialab, a research firm in Troy, NY, leads a team of architects, scientists and engineers in developing a high-tech “photovoltaic façade” using pivoting, nano-sized solar cells. Already able to provide 50% of a building’s requirements for hot water, space heating and air-conditioning, the system is on its way to lowering the cost of solar energy.
New coatings for better travel on earth and beyond
At Rensselaer’s Nanotechnology Center, a joint research project with the University of Florida is developing lubricant coatings for aircraft and spacecraft through a grant from the U.S. Department of Defense. “Vehicles that voyage from Earth’s warm and humid environment into the extreme cold vacuum of space require lubricants that can perform under a great range of conditions without fail,” says Linda Schadler who is leading the Rensselaer team on the project.
Next generation of sensors that detect “hot” objects to propel tech company into hot infra-red camera market
Infra-red cameras detect radiation given off in the form of body heat, for example. They are valuable in firefighting, mammography, night vehicle navigation, automotive security and maintenance and military applications, but they are expensive to manufacture. Critical Imaging LLC in Utica collaborated with Professor Bai Xu at Albany Nanotech’s MEMS laboratory to increase the number of sensors that can be placed on a silicon wafer with a huge drop in unit cost. This will dramatically increase the competitiveness of the small technology company. MEMS are micro-electro-mechanical structures, a technology with great commercial promise.
Nanomaterials for sale
Applied NanoWorks in Watervliet, NY, offers high-volume materials designed for research & product development. Their transparent nanoscale zinc oxide particles suspended in a water-based solution, for example, are useful in electronics and the cosmetics industry. Evident Technologies in Troy, NY, sells commercial, nanometer-sized semiconductor crystals, called quantum dots, for solar cells, LEDs, defense and life-sciences applications.
Restoring brain function lost due to disease or trauma focus of Wadsworth Center research scientist
In the interface between biology and nanotechnology, James N. Turner is developing nanofabricated devices intended to restore brain function. His projects are part of the National Science Foundation’s Nano BioTechnology Center in association with Cornell University. According to The Scientist magazine, the Wadsworth Center (a state public health laboratory in Albany, NY) is a Top 10 Place to Work for postdoctoral fellows.
Critical manufacturing problem solved for military Comanche Helicopters
FALA Technologies, Inc. in Kingston, NY specializes in solving engineering and manufacturing problems with a focus on the semiconductor and nanotechnology sectors. For Sikorsky Aircraft, FALA provided prototypes of a transmission clutch able to withstand stress failures that could cause a helicopter to crash.
Industries and occupations affected by nanotechnology
Health care—Headlines hint at the possibilities:
- “Researchers strike gold in cancer detection”
- “The tiniest test kits: a medical future for carbon nanotubes”
- “Revolutionary nanotechnology illuminates brain cells at work”
- “Robot combined with swallowable camera could give docs a better look inside the small intestine”
- “Clarkson University scientists probing deeper into skin and aging”
It’s hard to not be affected by the National Cancer Institute’s statement that nanotechnology will change the very foundations of cancer diagnosis, treatment, and prevention, with a goal of eliminating death and suffering from cancer by 2015. It’s a hot investment market too. A 2005 report “Nanotechnology in Healthcare” is available for US $4,200.
Automotive industries—Nanoprotect® Automotive Glass is already available in the US, along with a clear lacquer that improves scratch resistance on Mercedes-Benz C-Class vehicles and a nanocomposite bumper developed by Toyota. It’s the “next big thing” although there are few commercial products so far according to Small Times.
Cosmetics—For more than nine years, some lines of moisturizers from L’Oreal have used nanocapsules to deliver vitamin A & E to deeper skin layers. A Small Times product review speculates about why “nanospeak” hasn’t appeared in promotional materials. Nanoscale zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are also used in some brands of cosmetics and sunscreen
Sports—Nanocoated tennis balls (Double Core balls from Wilson) don’t lose their spring or fuzz up as quickly as other balls. They’ve been approved for use by the International Tennis Federation. VS NCT (Nano Carbon Technology) rackets from Babolat are ten times more stiff and thus very springy and powerful, according to a product review by an Inside Tennis columnist.
Cell phones—“Nanotechnology is all about small, light and cheap, and you’re not in the cell phone business if you’re not thinking small, light and cheap—the two are made for each other,” said David Bishop, vice president of research at Lucent’s Bell Labs. Microscopic microphones, liquid lenses, compasses with global positioning system links and faster recharging, intelligent batteries are all being developed.
Construction—Nanogel, a translucent aerogel, will be used in roof inserts that are more energy efficient than traditional glass roof inserts. Natural filtered daylight passes through the inserts. It’s manufactured by a chemical and materials company named Cabot, for a roofing products distributor called Centerpoint Translucent Systems, LLC.
Military & Security— The Watervliet Innovation Center, an incubator for companies working to develop applications for the homeland security industry, has opened at the Watervliet Arsenal. Applied NanoWorks, Inc. is the first tenant in what is expected to be a $170 billion industry nationwide by 2006. Sensors, communication devices, smart ammunition and textiles using nanotechnology all have military applications.
Nanotechno Fine Arts—This eBay online store sells signed and unframed limited edition prints based on molecular engineering. Creator Jack Mason plans to incorporate his images into video and sculpture in collaboration with other artists.
Science Journalism—Small Times is a great place to start to see the possibilities for combining expertise in nanotechnology and communications.
Nano news from other industries—For applications in aerospace, agriculture, energy, and textiles, check out the Jobs by Industry categories at the Working in Nanotechnology site. For a window into the gold rush atmosphere, visit the site promoting Nano Science and Technology Institute’s (NSTI) annual conference and trade show. Represented there are the food, display & optics, design & modeling and environmental industries.
University Nanotechnology Programs