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Nanotechnology Terms

 
image of a simulated nanotube

Here are some common terms related to nanotechnology and its applications.

  • atomic force microscope (AFM) or scanning force microscope (SFM) — a high-resolution type of scanning probe microscope with a demonstrated resolution of fractions of a nanometer, more than 1,000 times better than the optical diffraction limit. The AFM is one of the foremost tools for imaging, measuring and manipulating matter at the nanoscale. The term “microscope” in the name is actually a misnomer because it implies looking, while in fact the information is gathered by “feeling” the surface with a mechanical probe.

  • buckyball — Buckminsterfullerene C60, also known as the “buckyball,” is the simplest of the carbon structures known as fullerenes. Members of the fullerene family are a major subject of research falling under the nanotechnology umbrella. The discovery of the C60 buckyball was made by 1996 Nobel Prize laureates Robert F. Curl, Harold W. Kroto and Richard E. Smalley.

  • electron beam lithography — Electron beam lithography (often abbreviated as e-beam lithography) is the practice of using a beam of electrons to generate patterns on a surface.

  • molecular manufacturing — the proposal that molecular machine systems will eventually be able to manufacture most objects from the molecule up, building complex products with atomic precision

  • nanomedicine — the application of nanotechnology to the prevention and treatment of disease in the human body, including activity monitors, chemotherapy, pacemakers, biochips, insulin pumps, nebulizers, needleless injectors, hearing aids, medical flow sensors and blood pressure, glucose monitoring and drug delivery systems

  • nanoscale — the scale of measurement to the atomic and molecular size, normally 1 to 100 nanometers. A nanometer (nm) is one-billionth of a meter — smaller than the wavelength of visible light and a hundred-thousandth the width of an average human hair.

  • nanoscale properties — Materials reduced to the nanoscale can suddenly show very different properties compared to what they exhibit on a macroscale, enabling unique applications. For instance, opaque substances become transparent (copper); inert materials become catalysts (platinum); stable materials turn combustible (aluminum); solids turn into liquids at room temperature (gold); insulators become conductors (silicon). A material such as gold, which is chemically inert at normal scales, can serve as a potent chemical catalyst at nanoscales. Much of the fascination with nanotechnology stems from these unique quantum and surface phenomena that matter exhibits at the nanoscale.

  • nanotube — Based on carbon or other elements, these systems consist of graphitic layers seamlessly shaped into cylinders. Only a few nanometers in diameter, yet up to a millimeter long, the length-to-width aspect ratio is extremely high. The number of both specialized and large-scale applications for nanotubes is growing constantly.

  • quantum dots — Semiconductors whose excitons (the bound state of an electron and an imaginary particle called an electron hole in an insulator or semiconductor) are confined in all three spatial dimensions. As a result, they have properties that are between those of bulk semiconductors and those of discrete molecules.

  • quantum size effect — The electronic properties of solids change at extremely small sizes. This effect does not come into play by going from macro to micro dimensions, but becomes clear when the nanometer size range is reached. Additionally, a number of physical properties of things on a nanoscale — mechanical, electrical and optical properties — change when compared to macroscopic systems.