If you dive into a swimming pool, yourinertia will keep you moving throughthe water for several metres. If you werenano-sized, however, the water wouldbe like treacle – its viscosity would soonbring you to a gloopy halt.Nanoscale objects show markedlydifferent behaviour to large objects.For a nanoparticle in a swimming pool,
is negligible and
dominates. The water molecules wouldalso bombard the particle because of
– throwing it aroundlike an aeroplane in constant turbulence.At nanoscales, forces that hold surfacestogether become very strong. For a ‘nanobot’(see page 5), this could be a bad thing –it would tend to stick to the ﬁrst surface itmet. For
, this is extremely useful:nano-forces created by the extremely ﬁnehair on their feet allow them to walk on
We’ve used nanotechnologiesfor centuries – we just neverknew it.
Some people talk about a nano-technology revolution as if this werethe start of something radically new.Others point out that
nanotechnologies have not yetproduced any new products
–merely enhanced existing productssuch as tennis racquets andtrousers. Also, nanotech has beenused for decades without a greatdeal of excitement. In this sense,nanotechnology is a ‘
’of older science, and its inﬂuence isevolutionary rather than revolutionary.In the longer term, though, nano-technologies do have the
potentialto affect manufacturing processesacross a wide range of industries
. This will lead not just to ‘the samebut better’ but to
Nanoparticles are not new: theyhave existed widely in the naturalworld, for millions of years, createdby living things or volcanic activity.
Nano-effects are astonishinglycommon in nature
– from non-reﬂective moths’ eyes to extraordinarilyefﬁcient nano-lenses in crystallinesponges. The enamel of our teethis constructed, in part, by use of natural nanotechnology.Indeed,
people have exploitedthe properties of nanoparticlesfor centuries
. Gold and silvernanoparticles are responsible forsome coloured pigments, used in
sincethe 10th century (depending ontheir size, gold particles can appearred, blue or gold).
have been madeusing nanotechnologies for the last20 years, and chemists have beenmaking
– large moleculesmade up of nanoscale subunits –for decades.
Today, there are two approachesto manufacturing nanomaterials:‘
’ and ‘
In the ‘bottom-up’ approach,structures are built up atom byatom
using sophisticated toolssuch as the scanning tunnellingmicroscope or atomic forcemicroscope. You can ﬁnd out moreabout these technologies on the
website. These can pick up,slide or drag atoms or moleculesaround to build simple nanostructures.Molecules can also be assembledby
– or by
, whereby atomsand molecules arrange themselvesinto ordered structures.
In ‘top-down’ approaches, traditionalengineering techniques such asmachining and etching are usedat very small scales
. Productstherefore tend to be reﬁnements of existing products, such as electronicchips with ever more componentscrammed onto them.
LIFE AT NANOSCALES
Are nanotechnologies really that new?
LEFT: This coral-grazing parrotﬁsh has particularlystrong,durable teeth made up of bundles of nanoﬁbres.RIGHT: Tennis balls made of nano-based materials remainpressurised for longer.
ceilings and even to hang upsidedown from ﬂat sheets of glass.Another difference is that the
ratio ofsurface area to volume increases
(in a 30 nm particle, 5 per cent of the atomsare on its surface; in a 3 nm particle, halfare). The atoms on the surface tend to bemore reactive than those at the centre, sonanoparticle-based materials can be highlyreactive (good for
or have unusualproperties (nano-gold melts at much lowertemperatures than the solid metal).At nanoscales, the behaviour of individualatoms and electrons becomes important,and interesting
come intoplay. These fundamentally alter the optical,electrical and magnetic behaviour ofmaterials. You can ﬁnd out more about thepeculiar quantum world in
...if a nanoparticlewas the sizeof a football
...a carbon C60 moleculewould be the size of a pea......a chicken would beas big as the Earth......how big would you be?Find out at our interactive nanoconverterat www.wellcome.ac.uk/bigpicture/nano...the London Eyewould just about ﬁtbetween the Earthand the Moon.