You are on page 1of 13

Introduction: Nanotechnology:

Imagine a world where microscopic medical implants patrol our arteries, diagnosing
ailments and fighting disease; where military battle-suits deflect explosions; where
computer chips are no bigger than specks of dust; and where clouds of miniature
space probes transmit data from the atmospheres of Mars or Titan.
Many incredible claims have been made about the future’s nanotechnological
applications, but what exactly does nano mean, and why has controversy plagued
this emerging technology?
Nanotechnology is science and engineering at the scale of atoms and molecules. It
is the manipulation and use of materials and devices so tiny that nothing can be built
any smaller.
How small is small?
Nanomaterials are typically between 0.1 and 100 nanometres (nm) in size – with 1
nm being equivalent to one billionth of a metre (10-9 m).
This is the scale at which the basic functions of the biological world operate – and
materials of this size display unusual physical and chemical properties. These
profoundly different properties are due to an increase in surface area compared to
volume as particles get smaller – and also the grip of weird quantum effects at the
atomic scale.
If 1 nanometre was roughly the width of a pinhead, then 1 metre on this scale would
stretch the entire distance from Washington, DC to Atlanta – around 1000
kilometres. But a pinhead is actually one million nanometres wide. Most atoms are
0.1 to 0.2 nm wide, strands of DNA around 2 nm wide, red blood cells are around
7000 nm in diameter, while human hairs are typically 80,000 nm across.
Unwittingly, people have made use of some unusual properties of materials at the
nanoscale for centuries. Tiny particles of gold for example, can appear red or green
– a property that has been used to colour stained glass windows for over 1000 years.
Nanotechnology is found elsewhere today in products ranging from nanometre-thick
films on “self-cleaning” windows to pigments in sunscreens and lipsticks.
Nano is born
The idea of nanotechnology was born in 1959 when physicist Richard Feynman gave
a lecture exploring the idea of building things at the atomic and molecular scale. He
imagined the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica written on the head of a pin.
However, experimental nanotechnology did not come into its own until 1981, when
IBM scientists in Zurich, Switzerland, built the first scanning tunnelling microscope
(STM). This allows us to see single atoms by scanning a tiny probe over the surface
of a silicon crystal. In 1990, IBM scientists discovered how to use an STM to move
single xenon atoms around on a nickel surface – in an iconic experiment, with an
inspired eye for marketing, they moved 35 atoms to spell out “IBM”.
Further techniques have since been developed to capture images at the atomic scale,
these include the atomic force microscope (AFM), magnetic resonance imaging
(MRI) and the even a kind of modified light microscope.
Other significant advances were made in 1985, when chemists discovered how to
create a soccer-ball-shapedmolecule of 60 carbon atoms, which they called
buckminsterfullerene (also known as C60 or buckyballs). And in 1991, tiny, super-
strong rolls of carbon atoms known as carbon nanotubes were created. These are six
times lighter, yet 100 times stronger than steel.
Both materials have important applications as nanoscale building blocks. Nanotubes
have been made into fibres, long threads and fabrics, and used to create tough
plastics, computer chips, toxic gas detectors, and numerous other novel materials.
The far future might even see the unique properties of nanotubes harnessed to build
a space elevator.
More recently, scientists working on the nanoscale have created a multitude of other
nanoscale components and devices, including:
Tiny transistors, superconducting quantum dots, nanodiodes, nanosensors,
molecular pistons, supercapacitors, “biomolecular” motors, chemical motors, a nano
train set, nanoscale elevators, a DNA nanowalking robot,nanothermometers, nano
containers, the beginnings of a miniature chemistry set, nano-Velcro, nanotweezers,
nano weighing scales, a nano abacus, a nano guitar, a nanoscale fountain pen, and
even a nanosized soldering iron.
Engineering wonder
Engineering at the nanoscale is no simple feat, and scientists are having to come up
with completely different solutions to build from the “bottom-up” rather than using
traditional “top-down” manufacturing techniques.
Some nanomaterials, such as nanowires and other simple devices have been shown
to assemble themselves given the right conditions, and other experiments at larger
scales are striving to demonstrate the principles of self-assembly. Microelectronic
devices might be persuaded to grow from the ground-up, rather like trees.
Researchers are also finding ways to put proteins, DNA, viruses and bacteria and
other micro-organisms to work in building nanomaterials, and also taking other
inspiration from the natural world.
Some problems have arisen due to a lack of consistency in measuring distances at
the nanoscale, but an atomic lattice nanoruler could improve accuracy.
Great potential
In the short term, the greatest advances through nanotechnology will come in the
form of novel medical devices and processes, new catalysts for industry and smaller
components for computers.
In medicine, we are already seeing research on: New ways to deliver drugs with
contact lenses; the directing of drugs to tumours with tiny “smart bombs“; gold
“nano-bullets” that seek-and-destroy tumours; starving cancer with nanoparticles;
diagnosing diseases such as Alzheimer’s, monitoring health and fighting sickness
with tiny probes; and growing new organs from scratch.
And biochemists are hoping to deploy viruses as “nanocameras” to get a clearer
picture of what is going on inside cells.
In computing nanoscience may lead to smaller or more powerful microchips with
increased capacity and dramatic reductions in the size of hard discs. Some
experiments have even shown that it might be possible to manufacture tiny parts for
computers inside bacteria. Quantum computing and quantum cryptography also rely
on advances in nanotechnology. In fact, existing computer chips are already
manufactured taking advantage of techniques at the nanoscale.
In environmental science nanotechnology is providing ways to detect and filter
bacteria and toxins out of water supplies and clear up heavy metal and organic
chemical pollution.
Nanoscience has already benefited the environment with the development of the
catalytic converter – which detoxifies engine fumes the world over. Further
innovations are leading to smaller, more efficient batteries, advanced solar power
and fuel cells and catalytic diesel additives that improve fuel efficiency.
In addition, new and powerful light-emitting diodes (LEDs) may soon replace
conventional light bulbs, offering huge energy savings. LEDs are built with
semiconductors, increasingly developed at the nanoscale.
In military technology governments are splashing cash on developing new,
lightweight equipment and weapons, bullet-proof battle-suits that can morph to
provide camouflage or even stiffen to provide splints for broken limbs, and
nanosensors that might detect chemical or biological perils.
Nanoparticles are currently in use in 120 millimetre tank rounds and may soon be
used in other types of munitions – their larger surface area to volume ratio makes
them especially reactive.
Diminutive debate
Despite the fact that it still has relatively few commercial applications,
nanotechnology has generated criticism from environmental groups and others –
such as the UK’s Prince Charles – who fear as-yet-unknown risks to human health
and the environment.
Critics have called for a moratorium on research, arguing that we know little about
the toxicological effects of nanoparticles, and that there are no regulations to control
them – nanotechnology advocates simply call this scaremongering, and fail to
understand what all the fuss is about.
Futurist K Eric Drexler – credited with coining the term nanotechnology – dreamed
up one possible nightmare scenario in his1986 book Engines of Creation. Though
he now deems it an unlikely scenario, Drexler stirred fears about nanotechnology by
painting a future where tiny, self-replicating nanobots run amok, digesting life on
earth and reducing everything to a “grey goo“.
The few experimental studies to date into the health impact of nanoparticles reveal
that high concentrations of nanotubes could damage the lungs of rats and mice. One
2004 study hinted that buckyballs can accumulate and cause brain damage in fish.
A report, independently commissioned in 2003 by the environmental group
Greenpeace, acknowledged that – while there could be risks from nanotechnology –
the field could generate significant innovations to benefit the environment. A 2004
report, commissioned by the UK government, argued that most nanotechnology
presents few novel risks, but recommended more research, along with new
regulations to control the technology.



Nanotechnology For Dummies, 2nd Edition

By Earl Boysen, Nancy C. Muir, Desiree Dudley, Christine


Nanoparticles are so small they contain just a few atoms to a few

thousand atoms, as opposed to bulk materials that might contain
many billions of atoms. This difference is what causes nano materials
to behave differently than their bulk counterparts.
One aspect of how nano-sized particles act differently is how they behave in
chemical reactions. One of the most interesting examples of this involves gold.

Gold is considered an inert material in that it doesn’t corrode or tarnish. Normally,

gold would be a silly material to use as a catalyst for chemical reactions because it
doesn’t do much. However, break gold down to nanosize (approximately 5
nanometers) and it can act as a catalyst that can do things like oxidizing carbon

This transformation works as follows. The smaller the nanoparticle, the larger the
proportion of atoms at the surface, and the larger proportion of atoms at the corners
of the crystal.

While in the bulk form, each gold atom (except the small percentage of them at the
surface) is surrounded by twelve other gold atoms; even the gold atoms at the surface
have six adjacent gold atoms. In a gold nanoparticle a much larger percentage of
gold atoms sit at the surface.

Because gold forms crystalline shapes, gold atoms at the corners of the crystals are
surrounded by fewer gold atoms than those in the surface of bulk gold. The exposed
atoms at the corners of the crystal are more reactive than gold atoms in the bulk
form, which allows the gold nanoparticles to catalyze reactions.
A gold nanoparticle.


It turns out that gold’s capability to catalyze reactions is not the only thing that
changes at the nanoscale. Gold can actually change color depending on the size of
the gold particles.

One of the characteristics of metals is that they are shiny because light reflects off
their surfaces. This reflectivity has to do with electron clouds at the surface of metals.
Because photons of light can’t get through these clouds and therefore aren’t absorbed
by the electrons bound to atoms in metals, the photons are reflected back to your eye
and you see that shiny bling quality.

In bulk form, gold reflects light. At the nanoscale, the electron cloud at the surface
of a gold nanoparticle resonates with different wavelengths of light depending upon
their frequency. Depending on the size of the nanoparticle, the electron cloud will
be in resonance with a particular wavelength of light and absorb that wavelength.
A nanoparticle of about 90 nm in size will absorb colors on the red and yellow end
of the color spectrum, making the nanoparticle appear blue-green. A smaller-sized
particle, about 30 nm in size, absorbs blues and greens, resulting in a red appearance.


Another characteristic that varies at the nano level is the temperature at which a
material melts. In bulk form, a material, such as gold, has a certain melting
temperature regardless of whether you’re melting a small ring or a bar of gold.
However, when you get down to the nanoscale, melting temperatures begin to vary
by as much as hundreds of degrees.

This difference in melting temperature again relates to the number of atoms on the
surface and corners of gold nanoparticles. With a greater number of atoms exposed,
heat can break down the bond between them and surrounding atoms at a lower
temperature. The smaller the particle, the lower its melting point.



Much of what people talk about doing with nanotechnology lies in the future.
However, you can find many examples of nanotechnology making a difference

Nanotechnology makes it possible to achieve several benefits when you manufacture

materials. For example, nanomaterials can be stronger and more lightweight than
their non-nano counterparts. Nano also makes it possible to make materials smaller,
a key aspect of building computer chips, for example.
In addition, nanoparticles can help fibers resist stains and repel water. Used as
catalysts in chemical reactions, nanoparticles can make processes more efficient and
reduce the amount of energy they require. Nano also has several applications in

Here’s a list of the types of things nano is making possible today. Nano is being used

 To make strong lightweight equipment ranging from tennis racquets to

windmill blades

 To clean up industrial solvents contaminating groundwater

 To protect clothing with nanoparticles that shed water or stains

 As catalysts to make chemical manufacturing more efficient while saving

energy and keeping waste products to a minimum

 As a coating on countertops that kills bacteria

 In sunscreens to provide protection from UV rays without producing a thick

white residue

 In wound dressings to rapidly stop bleeding in trauma patients

 As a film on glass to stop water from beading and dirt from accumulating

 In paints to prevent corrosion and the growth of mold as well as to provide


 To make integrated circuits with features that can be measured in nanometers

(nm), allowing companies to make computers chips that contain billions of

 In bandages to kill germs

 For coatings in heavy-duty machinery, such as ships and the oil industry, to
make equipment last longer

 In plastic food packaging to keep oxygen out so the food spoils at a much
slower rate
Nanoparticles are important scientific tools that have been and are being explored in
various biotechnological, pharmacological and pure technological uses. They are a
link between bulk materials and atomic or molecular structures.

While bulk materials have constant physical properties regardless of its size, among
nanoparticles the size often dictates the physical and chemical properties. Thus, the
properties of materials change as their size approaches the nanoscale and as the
percentage of atoms at the surface of a material becomes significant.

For bulk materials, those larger than one micrometer (or micron), the percentage of
atoms at the surface is insignificant in relation to the number of atoms in the bulk of
the material.

Physical properties of nanoparticles

Nanoparticles are unique because of their large surface area and this dominates the
contributions made by the small bulk of the material. Zinc oxide particles have been
found to have superior UV blocking properties compared to its bulk substitute. This
is one of the reasons why it is often used in the preparation of sunscreen lotions.

Other examples of the physical properties of nanoparticles:

 Color – Nanoparticles of yellow gold and gray silicon are red in color
 Gold nanoparticles melt at much lower temperatures (~300 °C for 2.5 nm size)
than the gold slabs (1064 °C)
 Absorption of solar radiation in photovoltaic cells is much higher in
nanoparticles than it is in thin films of continuous sheets of bulk material -
since the particles are smaller, they absorb greater amount of solar radiation
Optical properties of nanoparticles
Nanoparticles also often possess unexpected optical properties as they are small
enough to confine their electrons and produce quantum effects. One example of this
is that gold nanoparticles appear deep red to black in solution.

Formation of suspensions
An important physical property of nanoparticles is their ability to form suspensions.
This is possible since the interaction of the particle surface with the solvent is strong
enough to overcome density differences. In bulk materials this interactions usually
result in a material either sinking or floating in a liquid.

Magnetization and other properties of nanoparticles

Other properties unique among nanoparticles are quantum confinement in
semiconductor particles, surface plasmon resonance in some metal particles and
superparamagnetism in magnetic materials.

For example, ferroelectric materials smaller than 10 nm can switch their

magnetisation direction using room temperature thermal energy, thus making them
unsuitable for memory storage. Thus this property is not always desired in

Quantum Dot:
Quantum dots are tiny particles or nanocrystals of a semiconducting material with
diameters in the range of 2-10 nanometers (10-50 atoms). They were first discovered
in 1980.1 Quantum dots display unique electronic properties, intermediate between
those of bulk semiconductors and discrete molecules, that are partly the result of the
unusually high surface-to-volume ratios for these particles.2-4 The most apparent
result of this is fluorescence, wherein the nanocrystals can produce distinctive colors
determined by the size of the particles.
Due to their small size, the electrons in quantum dots are confined in a small space
(quantum box), and when the radii of the semiconductor nanocrystal is smaller than
the exciton Bohr radius (exciton Bohr radius is the average distance between the
electron in the conduction band and the hole it leaves behind in the valence band),
there is quantization of the energy levels according to Pauli’s exclusion principle
(Figure 1).5,6 The discrete, quantized energy levels of quantum dots relate them
more closely to atoms than bulk materials and have resulted in quantum dots being
nicknamed 'artificial atoms'. Generally, as the size of the crystal decreases, the
difference in energy between the highest valence band and the lowest conduction
band increases. More energy is then needed to excite the dot, and concurrently, more
energy is released when the crystal returns to its ground state, resulting in a color
shift from red to blue in the emitted light. As a result of this phenomenon, quantum
dots can emit any color of light from the same material simply by changing the dot
size. Additionally, because of the high level of control possible over the size of the
nanocrystals produced, quantum dots can be tuned during manufacturing to emit any
color of light.7
Quantum dots can be classified into different types based on their composition and

Figure 1. Splitting of energy levels in quantum dots due to the quantum confinement
effect, semiconductor band gap increases with decrease in size of the nanocrystal.
Quantum Confinement
The quantum confinement effect is observed when the size of the particle is too small
to be comparable to the wavelength of the electron. To understand this effect we
break the words like quantum and confinement, the word confinement means to
confine the motion of randomly moving electron to restrict its motion in specific
energy levels( discreteness) and quantum reflects the atomic realm of particles.Soas
the size of a particle decrease till we a reach a nano scale the decrease in confining
dimension makes the energy levels discrete and this increases or widens up the band
gap and ultimately the band gap energy also increases.

When dealing with quantum confinement I found it easier to deal with the bohr
radius of the charge carrier. If the size of the quantum box/dot is smaller than this
then confinement occurs leading to a transition from continuous to discrete energy
levels. Note that charge carrier may refer to an electron as mentioned above, or to
an exciton (electron-hole quasiparticle) in materials such as semiconductors.
To my knowledge the physical properties of a quantum dot are not affected quantum
confinement, however, their optical absorption and emission can be tuned via the
quantum size effect. A useful model for this is the particle in a sphere. Hope that's