Chapter 57. The Continuing Economic Potential of Nanotechnology

Lois Peters

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Introduction1

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Nanoscience and nanotechnology involve studying things smaller than 100 nanometers which is at the level of atoms and molecules. One nanometer is one-billionth of a meter and a single human hair is around 80, 000 nanometers in width while a strand of DNA is 2.5nanometers wide. A gold atom is one-third of a nanometer. Working at the nano level is of interest because the physical and chemical properties of materials at the nanoscale can be novel in ways that have economic potential. For example, the strength-to-weight ratio of carbon nanotubes is superior to diamonds, a crystalline carbon material. Nanotubes are 100 times stronger than steel. In the realm of nanotechnology the position of a single atom can make all the difference—whether a material functions as a semiconductor or an insulator, whether it triggers a vital chemical process or stops it cold.

More specifically, nanoscience is the study of phenomena and manipulation of materials at atomic, molecular, and acromolecular scales, where properties differ significantly from those at a larger scale. Nanotechnology refers to a field of applied science and technology whose theme is the control of matter on the atomic and molecular scale, generally 100 nanometers or smaller, and the fabrication of devices or materials that lie within that size range. It is nanotechnology that is of most immediate interest to ...

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