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What is Nanotechnology?

written by: Finn Orfano • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 7/14/2008

In the most basic of terms, Nanotechnology refers to the projected ability to construct items from the bottom up. It is the engineering of functional systems down to the molecular level. There are, however, many different spins on the terminology.

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    What is nanotechnology? In the most basic of terms, Nanotechnology refers to the ability of constructing items from the bottom level to higher level. It is the engineering of functional systems down to the molecular level. There are, however, many different spins on the terminology.

    The United States Nanotechnology Initiative defines Nanotechnology as anything which has size smaller than 100 nm and should hold novel properties. This Initiative was created as the shift in Nanotechnology was being made in the 1980’s. In its infancy, Nanotechnology was meant to describe building machines on the scale of molecules. As it became wider spread and more commonly used in the world of science, it evolved to include even simpler kinds of nanometer-scale technology.

    Although Nanotechnology became known to most in the 80’s, its origin can be traced back as far as 1959. It was conceived then as using miniature factories using Nano-machines to build complex products.  So where are we now in the world of Nanotechnology? Experts say we are in the midst of creating a roadmap to further develop the theory of Nanotechnology. Using concepts such as mechanochemistry to guide molecular machine systems is a pivotal point in developing this roadmap.

    The future of Nanotechnology is uncertain; some experts in the field theorize that it will create a sort of manufacturing revolution, which raises concern with economic, social, and environmental factors.

    Conflicting definitions of Nanotechnology also cause difficulty in defining and understanding the basic principles of Nanotechnology. This makes it very difficult to develop effective policies and a general acceptance among the science communities. Some refer to Nanotechnology as a general-purpose technology. Proponents of that idea claim that nanotechnology will offer longer lasting, better-built and safer products in all areas of everyday life by creating products that are second to none and by incorporating the use of dual-purpose technology.