Still curious? Read more: Nanoscience: thinking big, working small
The ultra small has the potential to make enormous changes to our world.
Nanotechnology is the design, production and application of structures, devices and systems on the scale of nanometres.
A nanometre (nm) is one billionth of a metre.
- 10x hydrogen atoms laid side by side: 7 nm long
- A strand of DNA: 2.5 nm wide
- A red blood cell: 7,000 nm wide
- A sheet of paper: 75,000 nm thick
- A human hair: 50,000 to 100,000 nm wide
- A pinhead: 1 million nm
Why it's exciting
The physical and chemical properties of matter change when they're ultra small. By controlling the manner in which nanometre-scale molecular structures are formed, it's possible to control their properties, such as:
- Electrical conductivity
- Crack resistance
- Melting temperature
Nanoparticles in action
Nanoparticles can be found in nature, such as in clay, milk, and volcanic ash.
They're also manufactured for use in products such as computer chips, medical implants, and sporting gear.
Into the future
Nanotechnology may soon lead to targeted drug delivery, body armour 100 times stronger than steel but as light as a feather, and new energy solutions.
But as with all emerging technologies, nanotechnology is not without its risks. The qualitites that make nanomaterials promising could also present new unknown risks to human health and the environment.
As long as we proceed with caution, nanotechnology has the potential to revolutionise our lives and solve some of the world's biggest problems.