objects means that the majority of atoms or molecules become located on surfaces and becausesurfaces represent potential interfaces, this often enhances reactivity.Novel properties can also occur because atomic configurations can be altered at the nanoscale. Forexample, both graphite and diamond are made of carbon atoms but these materials have verydifferent physical properties because of the way in which the atoms are arranged (in a sheet form forgraphite and in a tetrahedral shape for diamond). One of the early areas of significant development innanoST has been the discovery of, and ability to fabricate, different atomic structures for carbon,including soccer-ball-like shapes (fullerenes) and cylindrical tubes (carbon nanotubes). Carbonnanotubes are both stronger and lighter than steel and can have very high conductivity, a goodexample therefore of how restructuring atoms at the nanoscale can create materials with novelproperties. In many definitions, nanoST are seen as not just working on a nanoscale but activelyinvestigating and utilising the novel properties in effect there.A definition of ‘the nanoscale’ as 1-100 nm is increasingly becoming standardised because this is therange within which novel properties are considered most likely to occur. However, using this range todefine nanoST remains controversial and its appropriateness is subject to ongoing debate, chieflybecause some of the unique properties of nanoscale objects can be observed at sizes larger than100 nm.
How ‘nanoscale sciences and technologies’ are defined (including the range used) is highlysignificant as it has the potential to affect research funding and regulatory requirements across awhole range of sectors.Applications of nanoST can be ‘nanoscale’ in one, two or three dimensions. For example, very thinfilms and surface coatings might be nanoscale in one dimension (height). Nanowires and nanotubescan be nanoscale in two dimensions (height and width but not length), while nanoparticles andquantum dots are usually nanoscale in all three dimensions. In applications, nanomaterials (materialsthat are nanoscale in one, two or three dimensions) may also be ‘free’ or ‘fixed’. Free nanomaterialsare those that are free to move around, often appearing in the form of powders, liquids and solutionsfor example. Fixed nanomaterials, on the other hand, are those that have been set in a solid matrix orembedded into larger composite materials.When talking about nanoST, many people choose to emphasise that nano-sized particles andprocesses exist in nature. For example, nano-sized particles can be produced by volcanic eruptionswhile processes performed inside a cell occur on the nanoscale. Since ‘the nanoscale’ simply refersto a particular level of material reality, we should not be surprised that we find nanoscale productsand processes in nature. What is perhaps surprising is the way in which people take very differentapproaches to interpreting what this means. For example, some interpret it to mean that nanoST are‘natural’ and therefore harmless. Others suggest that it provides a ‘proof of principle’ for what nanoSThope to achieve. Still others claim it means nanoST will be best advanced by using the nanoscale‘tools’ already developed in nature.People describe and interpret the relationship between nature and nanotechnology in a range ofdifferent ways and all have significant implications for what type of research is pursued and
For example, Friends of the Earth Australia has consistently called for an extension of the definition up to 300nm. See G Miller and R Senjen,
Out of the Laboratory and on to our plates: Nanotechnology in food &agriculture,
a report prepared for Friends of the Earth Australia, Friends of the Earth Europe and Friends of theEarth United States and supported by Friends of the Earth Germany, March 2008. Available at:http://nano.foe.org.au/filestore2/download/219/nano_food_report.pdf (last accessed 29.07.09).The Standing Committee on State Development of the NSW Parliament Legislative Council also recentlysuggested that the definition be extended to 300 nm in its report
Nanotechnology in NSW
, Report No. 33,2008. Available at:http://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/Prod/parlment/committee.nsf/0/35d2e3e37498a908ca2574f1000301bb/$FILE/Final%20Report%20Oct.