There has been an unprecedented multidisciplinary convergence of scientists dedicated to uncover the secrets of a world so small, we can’t see it – even with a conventional light microscope. This world is the field of nanotechnology, the realm of atoms, molecules and nanostructures. Nanotechnology is such a new field that no one is quite sure of what will come of it. Even so, predictions range from the capability to reproduce things like diamonds and food to the world being devoured by self-replicating nanorobots.

In order to get a better understanding the unusual world of nanotechnology, we need to get an idea of the units of measure involved. A centimeter is one-hundredth of a meter, a millimeter is one-thousandth of a meter, and a micrometer is one-millionth of a meter, but all of these are still huge compared to the nanoscale. A nanometer (nm) is one-billionth of a meter, smaller than the wavelength of visible light and a hundred-thousandth the width of a human hair.

As small as a nanometer is, it’s still large compared to the atomic scale. An atom has a diameter of about 0.1 nm. An atom’s nucleus is much smaller — about 0.00001 nm. Atoms are the building blocks for all matter in our universe. You and everything around you are made of atoms. Nature has perfected the science of manufacturing matter molecularly. For instance, our bodies are assembled in a specific manner from millions of living cells. Cells are nature’s nanomachines. Cells are capable of functioning autonomously from the rest of the organism. At the atomic scale, elements are at their most basic level. On the nanoscale, we can potentially put these atoms together to build almost anything. The nanoscale is the first point where we can assemble something -it’s not until we start putting atoms together that we can make anything useful.


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