I was taking some classes this summer and wrote a FAQ for nanoscience. This is used to inform students interested in our program or teachers who want to add some nanoscience topics to their current curriculum.
Nanoscience FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
What is nanoscience?
Nanoscience is the science of the small. Nanoscience is the study of matter in the range from 1 to 100 nanometers. This size range is often referred to as the nanoscale.
What is a nanometer?
A nanometer is a billionth of a meter which is about five atoms long. A red blood cell is about 7500 nanometers in diameter.
What is nanotechnology?
A formal definition of nanotechnology typically includes the following three elements:
1. Technology in the range from 1 to 100 nanometers
2. Novel properties due to the small size
3. The ability to manipulate or control at the atomic scale
What is the difference between nanoscience and nanotechnology?
Nanoscience is the study of objects and phenomena at the nanoscale while nanotechnology is the ability to develop technology at the nanoscale or use technology to observe and manipulate at the nanoscale.
Is nanoscience part of chemistry, biology or physics?
Nanoscience is cross-disciplinary. Since nanoscience is based on a size scale it includes concepts from chemistry, physics and biology as well as electronics, materials science, medicine and other fields.
Are nanorobots the chief focus of nanoscience?
No. Most scientists doubt that autonomous nanoscale robots like those depicted in popular television shows and movies such as Star Trek, Star Gate, and Spiderman will ever be possible. Likewise the popular image of the nanorobot traveling through your blood stream, cleaning out plaque will remain science fiction for many years.
Cells remain the only true self replicating systems capable of nanoscale manipulation.
When will we start seeing nanoscience being used to make products?
Nanoscience is being used today in many of the products you use everyday. Here are a few examples:
• Your computer hard disk drive: Uses a special magnetic film only a few nanometers thick to achieve high storage densities.
• Your clothing: Many fabric treatments that allow fabrics to be stain resistant and water repellent are based on nanotechnology. Nanotex is a common nanotechnology based treatement.
• Your lights: Research at the nanoscale has enabled the production of blue and white light emitting diodes (LEDs).
• Your phone: Special transistors with precise atomic layers enable cellular telephones to pick up noise free signals.
• Your television: The display for you flat screen television consists of many layers of nanoscale thin films designed to produce maximum brightness for the display.
• Your car: Scratch resistant clear coats protecting your car’s finish are based on nanomaterials.
• Your teeth: Tooth replacement materials commonly used by dentists are based on nanoparticles, such as 3M’s Filtek supreme.
• You computer: Intel’s current generation of computer chip has features only 45 nanometers wide.
• Your food storage: Silver nanoparticles are used in some food storage containers and refrigerators to prevent the growth of bacteria.
• Your makeup: The cosmetics industry has been one of the biggest adaptors of nanotechnology, making transparent sunscreens, advanced pigments and skin treatments.
• Your doors and windows: Nanoscale films are deposited onto doors and windows to provide self-cleaning and ultra-violet filtering capabilities.
Isn’t nanoscience a new technology?
Nanoscience has been used by man for thousands of years. It is only recently that we have been able to observe at the nanoscale. Following are some historical applications of nanoscience.
• Many clays consist of nanoparticles and have been used since the earliest times.
• The ancient Chinese and Romans used gold nanoparticles to color glass.
• The Romans used silver nanoparticles for antibiotic properties.
• During the medieval period gold nanoparticles were used to color stained glass.
• The Maya used nanoparticles to create the blue pigment known as Maya Blue.
• Michael Faraday began producing colloidal gold in the 1850s.
• Carbon black is a nanomaterial that has been added to tires since the 1900s.
• Nanoscale particles have been used for polishing and other purposes for over fifty years.
Why should I be interested in nanoscience?
Research in nanoscience is impacting many different industries including some of the largest.
Electronics: Nanoscience is revolutionizing this industry with smaller more powerful processors, molecular electronics, advanced magnetic data storage, and optical communications.
Materials: Advanced materials based on nanotechnology are making products stronger, lighter, more colorful, and wear resistant. Scientists expect to be able to produce nearly any type of properties in a material that is needed.
Energy: Nanoscience is being used to produce more efficient and inexpensive photovoltaic solar cells. Nanomaterials are being used to produce high energy density rechargeable batteries.
Healthcare: Nanoparticles are being used in clinical trials for cancer treatment. Nanoscale sensors are being used to detect diseases earlier. Nanomaterials are being developed for biological implants to prevent infection and promote biocompatibility.
Defense: Sensors are being developed to detect explosives and biological weapons, and remotely monitor soldier’s vitals.
What are some typical nanoscience companies like?
3M is a world wide corporation that has been using nanomaterials for over thirty years. 3M products ranging from the lines that divide our highways to tooth replacement materials rely on nanomaterials. Technicians often work in cleanroom environments and analyze advanced materials.
Imago Instruments is a Madison company that makes an instrument called an atom probe microscope. This tool is able to extract atoms one at a time from a sample and reconstruct the structure of the original sample with atomic precision. This is the only tool in the world capable of analyzing some of today’s most advanced electronic devices.
Promega corporation is a Madison company that develops biological assays for a wider range of applications including DNA analysis, cellular analysis, drug discovery and molecular diagnostics. Assays to detect infectious diseases such as the H1N1 swine flu virus are developed here.
What types of degrees are available in Nanoscience Technology?
Schools around the world have begun to offer classes and degrees in nanoscience and nanotechnology.
• Associate degrees
o Chippewa Valley Technical College (Wisconsin)
o Dakota County Technical College (Minnesota)
o Normandale Community College (Minnesota)
o University of Pennsylvania
o Harper College (Illinois)
o North Dakota State College of Science
o North Seattle Community College (Washington)
o Texas State Technical College Waco
• Bachelor’s degrees
o UW Stout Applied Science Degree
o UW Platteville
o Louisiana Tech
• Advanced degrees
o University of Washington
o State University of New York, Albany
o Rice University
What will I learn about in CVTC’s Nanoscience program?
The CVTC Nanoscience program is based on three thrust areas:
• Nanofabrication – Photolithography methods, cleanroom manufacturing, microelectronics, vacuum technology and thin films.
• Nanomaterials – Materials characterization using electron microscopy and X-ray analysis, chemical synthesis of nanomaterials, properties of materials at the nanoscale.
• Nanobiotechnology – Biotechnology methods such as DNA manipulation, protein synthesis, biological sample analysis, biomedical applications of nanotechnology, medical diagnostics, DNA arrays, and Lab-on-a-Chip technologies.
Nanoscience is an atypical program because it is cross-disciplinary. Instead of focusing on a single subject such as chemistry, physics, biology or electronics a single class may include some topics from each of these subject areas. There is a great deal of overlap between the classes. For example the synthesis of nanoparticles may be discussed in a nanomaterials class and the use of nanoparticles as a medical treatment may be discussed in a nanobiotechnology class.
What can I do with an associate degree in Nanoscience Technology?
• Some graduates work in clean rooms fabricating electronic and medical devices.
• Some graduates travel around the world installing equipment such as electron microscopes.
• Some graduates work at analyzing products using electron microscopes and X-rays.
• Some graduates work for biotechnology companies manufacturing medical diagnostic devices and analyzing DNA.
• Some graduate pursue a four year degree with local regional schools such as UW Stout, UW Eau Claire and UW River Falls.
What type of person usually does well in the nanoscience program?
Nanoscience relies heavily on science and technology. The best students have a keen interest in science and technology and have good math and science aptitude. This is an emerging field so students should be risk takers. Students may need to relocate to work in this emerging industry.
What type of skills will I get with a degree in nanoscience?
The set of skills that nanoscience students learn is very impressive and enables them to work in a variety of high technology manufacturing environments:
• Electron microscopy
• Sputtered films deposition
• Micro-electromechanical Systems
• Statistical process control • DNA analysis
• Protein analysis
• Immunosorbent assays
• Sterile processing methods
• Cleanroom manufacturing
• X-ray analysis methods
• Vacuum technology
• Design of experiments
Why should I include nanoscience in my curriculum?
Many of the emerging applications of nanoscience are extremely intriguing. Exploring at the nanoscale is like exploring a newly discovered continent. New research is being published everyday. Nanoscience is in the process of changing the world in which we live. There are many applications of nanoscience that will affect human society. Nanoscience is an effective way to motivate student’s interest.
What are the “Big Ideas” of nanoscience?
A few years ago a group of nanoscience researchers got together to develop a list of “Big Ideas” of nanoscience. This is what they came up with:
• The size and scale of nanoscience. Develop an appreciation for just how small the nanoscale is.
• The atomic nature of matter. Everything is made of atoms.
• Dominant forces change with scale so the nanoscale world is different from our own experience.
• Properties of matter change at the nanoscale. Many properties of matter such as melting point, chemical reactivity and electrical and thermal conductivity change dramatically at the nanoscale. This is because materials are transitioning from bulk behavior to atomistic behavior.
• Self assembly. The laws of thermodynamics can be used to create self assembling systems.
• New tools allow the observation and manipulation of individual atoms.
• Nanotechnology is driven by the need to solve societal problems
• Models help us understand the nanoscale.
How can I infuse nanoscience concepts in another class?
There are applications of nanoscience in many different fields. Here are some ideas for how to include nanoscience classes in existing courses.
Many nanoscience laboratory activites can be done in a high school chemistry lab. Ferrofluid synthesis, colloidal gold synthesis and many other labs are available from: UW Madison’s MRSEC website http://mrsec.wisc.edu/Edetc/
Quantum mechanics plays a key role in many nanoscale phenomena. Nanoscale forces and motion can be explored such as the acceleration of an electron or particle or repulsive and attractive forces as a surface is probed. Laws of thermodynamics can be explored for creating self assembling systems.
Diagnostic chips are being used to detect Swine flue virus and AIDS. Protein based molecular motors have been used to drive attached shafts.
Single molecules are being used as gates, giant magneto resistant films are used in hard disk drives and mine detectors, cell phone communications are being improved by using NEMS oscillators. In the future it may be possible to print electronic circuits using an inkjet printer and inks containing conductive nanoparticles.
Are nanoparticles dangerous? Should we have laws prohibiting nanoparticles? What about nanoparticles produced by ordinary fires and diesel engines? Proteins are a type of nanoparticle without which life would be impossible. How should we decide which nanoparticles should be regulated? Nanoparticles have been used as catalysts to clean up toxic waste sites by transforming dangerous organic pollutants to non toxic compounds.
Nanotechnology is being used to build photovoltaic cells, fuel cells and advanced battery technologies.
Clinical trials are underway for novel methods of drug delivery based the “Magic Bullet” effect where the medicine is delivered only to specific cells.
Advanced materials may someday be used to build stronger flexible structures such airplanes that are so light and flexible they cannot crash or elevators that can transport things from the surface of a planet to geosynchronous orbit.
For more information see: Introduction to Nanoscience and Fundamentals of Nanotechnology by Gabor L. Hornyak et. al. 2008 CRC Press.