Nanotechnology is science, engineering, and technology conducted at the nanoscale, which is about 1 to 100  Nanoscience and nanotechnology are the study and application of extremely small things and can be used across all the other science fields, such as chemistry, biology, physics, materials science, and engineering.

The ideas and concepts behind nanoscience and nanotechnology started with a talk entitled “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom” by physicist Richard Feynman at an American Physical Society meeting at the California Institute of Technology (CalTech) on December 29, 1959, long before the term nanotechnology was used. In his talk, Feynman described a process in which scientists would be able to manipulate and control individual atoms and molecules. Over a decade later, in his explorations of ultraprecision machining, Professor Norio Taniguchi coined the term nanotechnology. It wasn't until 1981, with the development of the scanning tunneling microscope that could "see" individual atoms, that modern nanotechnology began.

It’s hard to imagine just how small nanotechnology is. One nanometer is a billionth of a meter, or 10-9 of a meter. Here are a few illustrative examples:

·         There are 25,400,000 nanometers in an inch

·         A sheet of newspaper is about 100,000 nanometers thick

·         On a comparative scale, if a marble were a nanometer, then one meter would be the size of the Earth

Nanoscience and nanotechnology involve the ability to see and to control individual atoms and molecules. Everything on Earth is made up of atoms—the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the buildings and houses we live in, and our own bodies.

But something as small as an atom is impossible to see with the naked eye. In fact, it’s impossible to see with the microscopes typically used in a high school science classes. The microscopes needed to see things at the nanoscale were invented relatively recently—about 30 years ago.

Once scientists had the right tools, such as the scanning tunneling microscope (STM) and the atomic force microscope (AFM), the age of nanotechnology was born.

Although modern nanoscience and nanotechnology are quite new, nanoscale materials were used for centuries. Alternate-sized gold and silver particles created colors in the stained glass windows of medieval churches hundreds of years ago. The artists back then just didn’t know that the process they used to create these beautiful works of art actually led to changes in the composition of the materials they were working with.

Today's scientists and engineers are finding a wide variety of ways to deliberately make materials at the nanoscale to take advantage of their enhanced properties such as higher strength, lighter weight, increased control of light spectrum, and greater chemical reactivity than their larger-scale counterparts.

Just how small is “nano?” In the International System of Units, the prefix "nano" means one-billionth, or 10-9; therefore one nanometer is one-billionth of a meter. It’s difficult to imagine just how small that is, so here are some examples:

·         A sheet of paper is about 100,000 nanometers thick

·         A strand of human DNA  is 2.5 nanometers in diameter

·         There are 25,400,000 nanometers in one inch

·         A human hair is approximately 80,000- 100,000 nanometers wide

·         A single gold atom is about a third of a nanometer in diameter

·         On a comparative scale, if the diameter of a marble was one nanometer, then diameter of the Earth would be about one meter

·         One nanometer is about as long as your fingernail grows in one second

How do scientists see what’s going on in the extremely small world of nanotechnology? The microscopes that are typically used in high school and college won’t do the job. Nanoscientists use high-powered microscopes that use unique methods to allow them to see the surface features on the atomic scale, effectively opening the door to modern nanotechnology.

Beginning as early at the 1930s, scientists were able to see at the nanoscale using instruments such as the scanning electron microscope, the transmission electron microscope, and the field ion microscope. The most recent and notable developments in microscopy are the scanning tunneling microscope and the atomic force microscope.

The electron microscope, first developed by German engineers Ernst Ruska and Max Knoll in the 1930s, uses a particle beam of electrons to illuminate a specimen and create a highly magnified image. Electron microscopes yield much greater resolution than the older light microscopes; they can obtain magnifications of up to 1 million times, while the best light microscopes can magnify an image only about 1,500 times.

The scanning tunneling microscope (STM) is among a number of instruments that allows scientists to view and  manipulate nanoscale particles, atoms, and small molecules. Its development earned its inventors, Gerd Binig and Heinrich Rohrer, the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1986.

Atomic force microscopes (AFMs) gather information by "feeling" the surface with a mechanical probe. Gerd Binig, along with Calvin Quate and Christoph Gerber, developed the first AFM in 1986.

Atomic Force Microscope

These microscopes make use of tiny but exact movements to enable precise mechanical scanning.

Additional Microscopy Information

The Nobel Prize webpage on microscopy has information on different types of microscopes, how they help scientists explore hidden worlds, and a microscopy timeline. Other resources include:

·         Molecular Expressions—Science, Optics and You, Florida State University

·         Nanoworld Center for Microscopy and Microanalysis, University of Queensland, Australia

·         Boston Museum of Science, Scanning Electron Microscopes and other microscope resources

·         Scanning Probe Microscope (SPM) Animation Gallery from Nanoscience Instruments

This timeline features Premodern example of nanotechnology, as well as Modern Era discoveries and milestones in the field of nanotechnology.

Early examples of nanostructured materials were based on craftsmen’s empirical understanding and manipulation of materials. Use of high heat was one common step in their processes to produce these materials with novel properties.

4th Century: The Lycurgus Cup (Rome) is an example of dichroic glass; colloidal gold and silver in the glass allow it to look opaque green when lit from outside but translucent red when light shines through the inside. (Images at left.)

9th-17th Centuries: Glowing, glittering “luster” ceramic glazes used in the Islamic world, and later in Europe, contained silver or copper or other metallic nanoparticles. (Image at right.)

6th-15th Centuries: Vibrant stained glass windows in European cathedrals owed their rich colors to nanoparticles of gold chloride and other metal oxides and chlorides; gold nanoparticles also acted asphotocatalytic air purifiers. (Image at left.)

13th-18th Centurties: