Share of Patents by Nanotechnology Sub-areas
The data for this chart was collected by applying a search program that looks for nanotechnology related words in a patent database. Each sub-area, such as Nanoelectronics, would look for that term as well as associated words to find products or processes that include or relate to this specific sub-area.

Instrumentation: Includes any tools or instruments developed for observation, manipulation, and control of nanomaterials and structures.

Nano-optics: Includes any nanotechnology products or processes created for the control and manipulation of light.

Nanomagnetics: Includes any nanotechnology products or processes that respond to (sense) or create magnetic fields, magnetism, or electromagnetism.

Nanobiotechnology: Includes any nanotechnology used for biological or medical applications.

Nanoelectronics: Includes any nanotechnology developments in electronic equipment, components, or circuits.

Nanomaterials: Includes any nanotechnology used to create new materials that may be stronger, more resistant, or responsive to an environment. Nanomaterials are designed to have specific properties and functions by some application of nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology Patenting by Institutional Sector
Patents are the exclusive right granted by a government to an inventor or company to manufacture, use, or sell an invention or process for a certain number of years without competition. A patent application outlines the design, components, and use of an invention so the inclusion of any nanotechnology related structure or process can be patented.
Average Annual Growth Rates of Nanotechnology-related
and All Publications by Country.
1996 - 2006
Graph
Average Annual Growth Rates of Nanotechnology-related and All Publications by Country
Average annual growth rates of nanotechnology related publications compared with all publications by country; this figure includes the top 20 countries by growth rate of publications.

This chart shows the annual growth rates in nanotechnology research by country as indicated by the number of publications between 1996 and 2006. Countries that have been conducting nanotechnology research for a while show less growth, then some of emerging nanotechnology programs.

Average Annual Growth Rates of Nanotechnology
and All Patents by Country
1995 - 2004
Graph
Average Annual Growth Rates of Nanotechnology and All Patents by Country
Average annual growth rates of nanotechnology related patents compared with all patents by country; this figure includes the top 25 countries by growth rate of patents.

This chart shows the annual growth rates in nanotechnology patents by country as indicated by data gathered between 1995 and 2004. Countries that have been involved with nanotechnology research for a while show less growth than countries that are beginning to grow their nanotechnology research programs. New discoveries and applications lead to patents so the relationship between research and innovation to commercialization is closely related.

Average Annual Growth Rates of Nanotechnology
and All Patents Across Applications Fields
1995 - 2004
Graph
Average Annual Growth Rates of Nanotechnology and All Patents Across Applications Fields
Average annual growth rate of nanotechnology, as measured by all patents, across application fields.

This chart relates the growth rate of nanotechnology per year with data gathered between 1995 and 2004. The growth rates are separated over application fields. Metallurgy is the industry that works with metal and blending different metals to create alloys. Semiconductors have both insulating properties and conducting properties that can be switched on and off. Macromolecular chemistry works with large molecules and complex molecules.

Share of Nanotechnology and All Patents by Country
Share of nanotechnology patents compared with all patents by country. This figure includes the top 25 countries by the share of nanotechnology patents accumulated until 2005 by priority date.

This chart shows the comparison of all nanotechnology patents by country compared with all patents. New nanotechnology programs in the United States, Europe, and Asia have stimulated and accelerated patenting.

Nanotechnology Companies by Country
Nanotechnology companies by country; the country must have at least 2 nanotechnology companies to be included.

This figure shows the number of companies that have nanotechnology products currently on the market. While there has been a growth in the number of nanotechnology patents, getting these products into the consumer market is still in very early stages.

Share of Nanotechnology-related and All Publications by Country
Share of nanotechnology related publications compared with all publications by country; the figure includes the top 25 countries by the share of nanotechnology related publications between 1991 - 2007.

This chart shows the comparison of all nanotechnology research publications by country compared with all research publications. Nanotechnology is a relatively new field of science. The research in the field of nanotechnology continues to grow as the importance of this field is recognized.

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Gecko Feet
Have you ever wanted to climb walls like a Gecko? Geckos are small lizards found in warm climates throughout the world. Lately, they have been getting attention under the microscopes of scientists for their amazing ability to walk up and down smooth, vertical surfaces or even walk on ceilings. They can do this because of specialized pads on their feet. The toe of a gecko's foot contains hundreds of flap-like ridges called lamellae. On each of these are millions of hairs called setae that are ten times thinner than a human's hair. Under further examination you can see that each setae hair divides into even smaller strands called spatulae, only a few hundred nanometers thick. This means that hundreds of millions of hairs are pulled towards the surface through attractive forces. These attractive forces are so strong that a gecko can hang and support its whole weight on just one toe! Even more interesting is that the gecko can control when their toes will stick to a surface and release. Just think if the gecko always had sticky feet how difficult it would be to move around and how dirty their feet would get! Researchers are looking into ways to mimic this interesting biological structure to create one-way adhesives. May be one day we will be able to climb walls.
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Lotus Leaf
The Lotus, Nelumbo nucifera, is a flowering plant native to tropical Asia. It has been cast in cultural significance for thousands of years because of its purity and beauty as it grows out of muddy waters looking sparkling clean. These traditional views are based on the fundamental observation that water beads up and rolls off of the flower petals leaving the blossom clean and seemingly untouched by dirt and water. In 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan studied the Lotus to figure out exactly how this occurred. Plants like the lotus, that exhibit superhydrophobic (dislike water) properties have nanosized bumps on the surface of their cells that create valleys between the bumps that are too small for the water to get into it. This keeps the water on top of the bumps. This structure, along with a waxy coating that is also hydrophobic, causes the water to bead up and roll off the leaves. The water is attracted more to itself and the dirt then the leaf, so as the water beads up and rolls off it is able to clean the plant by taking the dirt with it. This fascinating discovery of nanostructures in nature is helping scientists to develop water resistant and self-cleaning products, including some paints and fabrics.
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Beetle
What does a beetle and super high-speed computer have in common? There is an interesting species of Brazilian beetle, Lamprocyphus augustus, that shimmers iridescent green from almost any angle of observation. This unusual and amazing property was studied by researchers at the University of Utah. They found that the scales of the beetle contain a crystal structure that scientists have been trying to create for years, photonic crystals. A photonic crystal is a three dimensional periodic structure that can control and manipulate photons (the basic component of light). The nanocrystals in the scales of the beetle are diamond-like but are made out of chitin, which forms the hard exoskeleton of most insects. The interesting scales are fixed to the surface of the exoskeleton and measure 200 micrometers by 100 micrometers. Each repeating chitin unit in the scale is about 300 nanometers in size. Each scale is not a continuous crystal structure, but is broken up into around 200 individual chitin crystals that are oriented in different directions to provide the perceived green iridescence from almost all angles. Scientists were able to determine the crystal structure using a scanning electron microscope to image cross-sections of a scale. They used a focused ion beam to slowly shave the cross-section down layer by layer. Then by stacking some 150 images in a computer they were able to reconstruct the whole crystal structure. A truly amazing discovery! By reverse engineering this natural structure scientists may be able to develop photonic crystal nanofabrication technology. Scientists hope to use photonic crystals to develop better, more efficient solar cells, telecommunication equipment, sensors, and even optical computer chips. Optical computer chips that could run on light instead of electricity. These chips could be used to create an ultrahigh-speed computer that operates at the speed of light by controlling and manipulating that light with photonic crystals.
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Moth Eye
In the optical world, it is sometimes important to control how reflective or refractive a surface is. For example, in solar cells you want to capture as much light energy as possible. When industry wants their products to be less reflective, they apply anti-reflective coatings (ARCs). New research into ARCs has been driven by nanostructures found in nature such as in the moth. A moth's eye has virtually no reflection of light, a strategy to make them less visible to predators. The anti-reflective phenomenon is created by an array of tiny pyramid-like structures on the surface of the cornea termed corneal nipples. These structures are hexagonal in shape and very efficient at absorbing light, allowing the moth to see in dim or dark conditions. The distance between these nipples is approximately 200 nanometers and the height doesn't go much farther than 250 nanometers, though it varies between moth species. The spacing is smaller than visible light, present in wavelengths from 350 to 800 nanometers, causing the light to be absorbed with very little reflectance. This interesting design from nature is inspiring researchers to create new manufacturing processes to mimic the nanostructures which can be used to increase the efficiency of solar panels.
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Edelweiss
Edelweiss, Leontopodium nivale, is a European mountain (alpine) flower found in rocky limestone environments, 2000 - 3000 meters high. Its common name comes from German with edel meaning noble and weiss for white. Each bloom consists of five to six small yellow flower heads surrounded by leaves; creating a star shape. The leaves and flowers appear woolly, as they are covered in white hairs. This dense hair protects the flower from cold and UV light. The hair is actually made up of thin hollow filaments that have nanoscale structures in the 100 – 200 nanometers range. They absorb ultraviolet light, but reflect all visible light, which is why they appear white. By absorbing UV light the flower's cells are protected from UV damage, which is greater at higher altitudes. Through biomimicry or biomimetics (which is the study and imitation of nature's remarkable and efficient designs) researchers have reproduced the structure of these filaments for human UV protection.
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Nano in Nature
Biomimicry or biomimetics is the study and imitation of nature's remarkable and efficient designs. Progress in nanotechnology and instrumentation is providing amazing new discoveries about nature's designs and structures in the nanoworld. Discoveries such as water repelling structures on the Lotus Leaf, a gecko's ability to walk on glass, UV protection in the edelweiss plant, antireflective eyes of moths and a unique sparkling beetle's shell all result from nanostructures. What is incredible about these properties is that nature has accomplished abilities and applications that scientists are still trying to create and understand themselves. As we discover more about the natural nanoworld we will push the boundaries of nanoscience, discover more about our world, and promote further development based upon these fascinating revelations.
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World's Smallest World Map
On April 25, 2010 IBM announced that it had created the world's smallest three-dimensional world map. Before this, Paul Rothemund, a researcher at Caltech created a nanoscale version of the North and South American continents in 2006 out of DNA using a technique he called DNA origami. Paul's two continents were created on a 100 nanometer wide square, observed with an atomic force microscope. Four years later, IBM's map included all 7 continents and finer detail as a result of its newly developed process. This map, etched on a polymer (plastic) substrate, measures 22 by 11 micrometers; at that size 1000 nano maps could fit on a grain of salt. The map also considers topographical details illustrating depth and height of mountains and lakes.

Two major discoveries were made by the IBM researchers in Zurich, Germany, Almadan, and California.

First was the instrument used to etch the map. The map was etched using a tiny, very sharp silicon needle, 500 nm in length and only a few nm in diameter at its tip. The tip is attached to a bendable cantilever (bar attached at only one end) that is precisely controlled as it scans the surface of the substrate material with 1 nm accuracy. Heat is created through electrical resistance at the tip to remove material and create shapes.

The second innovation was finding an appropriate substrate material that would evaporate at high temperatures but remain stable at room temperature. Two materials were found, a polymer with the crazy name of polyphthalaldehyde (used for the map) and molecular glass (used in another test). This patterning technique opens new prospects for developing nanosized objects in fields such as electronics, future chip technology, medicine, life sciences, and optoelectronics.

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World's Smallest Snowman
The world's smallest snowman was unveiled in December of 2009 at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) in London, England. NPL is the UK's national measurement institute, developing and maintaining measurement standards to ensure accuracy and consistency. As well, NPL is a research institution developing new discoveries and technology. The snowman was used to highlight NPL's capabilities to observe, manipulate, manufacture, and measure at the nanoscale while providing a novel seasons greetings. This snowman was created from two tin beads measuring 10 micrometers across; meaning five of them can fit side-by-side inside a strand of your hair. The beads were bonded together with platinum deposited by an ion beam (a beam of charged particles). The eyes and smile were drilled using a focused ion beam while the nose, a mere 1000 nanometers wide, is made of more deposited platinum. All the pieces were positioned together through nanomanipulation using scanning electron microscopy. The snowman himself is mounted on the silicon cantilever from an atomic force microscope. NPL had some fun making frosty while illustrating the advancement of nanoscience instrumentation and tools.
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World's Smallest Guitar
This musical instrument won't be heard on the next album you buy, but it is famous for being the smallest guitar ever made. In the summer of 1997, at Cornell University's nanofabrication facility in New York, Dustin Carr built a nano size guitar. This guitar is 10 microns long from base to top, basically the size of a red blood cell. It has 6 suspended strings that are each 50 nanometers wide. It is made out of silicon, the second most abundant element in the earth's crust. A single crystal of silicon was carved using a process known as electron beam lithography. The silicon was coated with a thin film of a material known as resist. Resist reacts with the electron beam to become soluble and allowing it to rinse away leaving behind the predetermined pattern, in this case a guitar. The strings of the guitar can be plucked by an atomic force microscope; however we wouldn't hear it as the sound produced is at a frequency far outside of our normal range of 12 – 20,000 Hertz. Now the research team is able to pluck those strings by using a laser to heat the strings, creating stress which causes vibrations and sounds.
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World's Smallest Car
In September of 2005, researchers at Rice University designed and built the world's first nanocar. Now this isn't a car as you might picture it with an engine, driver, or passengers. This “car “ has a central axle connected in an I shape to a front and back axle. On either end of the front and back axle are attached “wheels”, which are made of buckyballs. A buckyball is a spherical, 60 carbon molecule and was discovered at Rice University in 1985. Individual buckyballs are quite hard, even harder than diamonds. The nanocar was first observed by a scanning tunneling microscope. The length of the car is around 3 nm and the width is around 2 nm, at this size the nanocar's width is slightly smaller than the width of a DNA molecule (at 2.5 nm). Imagine a tiny car driving along a DNA strand, wow! The scanning tunneling microscope was also used to push or pull the nanocar across a surface made of gold. It was found that the car had more resistance when forced sideways as opposed to being pushed forward or pulled back. This proved that the buckyball wheels actually spun with the axles and didn't just slide. It also ran more smoothly on a surface that was heated (as high as 200 degrees Celsius) versus a room temperature road. The heated surface helped loosen the bonds between the buckyball wheels and the surface, allowing the wheels to more easily roll across the gold. The synthesis and testing of nanocars provides insight into the investigation of bottom-up manufacturing. Bottom-up means building molecule by molecule to create larger more complex nanostructures.
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World's Smallest Christmas Card
The world's smallest Christmas card was introduced in December of 2010 by scientists at the University of Glasgow. The card measures 200 micrometers wide by 290 micrometers tall. Put another way, 8000 of these cards could fit on one postage stamp! The fabrication of this card illustrates how accurate the University's nanofabrication technology is. The card was etched onto a tiny piece of glass and the colors were added by a procedure called plasmon resonance. The electronics industry is taking advantage of nanofabrication technology by using it in sensors or components that filter light. The applications will be critical in the future development of the digital economy and could eventually find their way into your cameras, television, and computer screens.
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World's Smallest
Have you ever been reading through a newspaper, magazine or surfing the net and come across one of those crazy headlines like “Scientists make world's smallest map!” or “Seasons greetings from the world's tiniest snowman!” and wanted to know more? I'm sure you have wondered why researchers would be taking the time to make a guitar the size of a red blood cell or create a nanocar. The advancement of science involves developing explanations for how and why things work, as well as using technology to apply that knowledge to solve problems, and answer questions. Building a nano-sized map or snowman illustrates, in a fun way, the new capabilities that are being pioneered in nanotechnology . Learn more about the world's smallest maps, snowman, car, guitar, and Christmas card by exploring each headline further.
Hair
180 micrometers - 180,000nm
Hair is a structure unique to mammals, composed of the protein Keratin (which is also present in our nails and outer layer of skin). The hair shaft grows out of the hair follicle, which contains the hair root called the bulb. Growth only occurs in the bulb, which is the living part of the hair. Under a microscope the outer layer of the hair shaft looks like roofing shingles, this is called the cuticle and consists of several layers of flat, thin cells. The inside layer of the hair is called the cortex and provides the mechanical strength that maintains the shape of the hair. The color of your hair comes from pigmented melanin that is in the cortex.
Eye
25 mm - 25,000,000nm
The eye is a specialized organ that detects light and converts it into neural signals that are interpreted by nerves and sent to the brain to form the images you see. The smallest object visible with the average eye that has 20/20 vision is 0.1mm in diameter.
Human
Average height 1.75m - 1,750,000,000nm
are bipedal primates with highly developed brains. A human's average height is between 1.5m to 1.8m. The average lifespan is 67 years, though this number varies greatly depending on the environment one lives in.
Heart
9cm - 90,000,000nm
About the size of a clenched fist, the heart is a powerful muscle that pumps blood throughout the body's circulatory system. On average, the human heart beats 72 times per minute, or 2,600,000,000 beats throughout a person's lifetime.
Arteriole
50 micrometers - 50,000nm
An arteriole is a tiny blood vessel (almost 2000 times smaller than the heart itself) that branches off from arteries. As blood moves into this smaller space the pressure increases. Arterioles have strong flexible walls to withstand this extra force and can adjust blood flow to different part of the body.
Arteriole cell
1 micrometer thick - 1,000nm
Arterioles are structured in several layers. The inside has a one cell thick lining of epithelial cells; these appear like thin, flat plates that fit closely together to provide a smooth, low friction surface over which the blood can easily move. This single layer is approximately 1 micrometer thick. Over top of this is a lining of smooth muscle that helps regulate blood pressure by expanding or contracting; smooth muscle is automatically controlled by our bodies unlike our skeletal muscle, which responds to our thoughts. The outer layer is fibrous tissue that provides support and elasticity to withstand blood pressure; this layer also helps anchor the arteriole to the surrounding tissues.
Red Blood Cell
7 micrometers - 7,000nm
ed blood cells are produced in bone marrow, circulate in the blood and carry oxygen throughout the body. Human red blood cells are flexible and shaped a bit like doughnuts (without the hole in the centre). They are squishy enough to squeeze through capillaries (the smallest blood vessels) one blood cell at a time. The average lifespan of a red blood cell is 100 to 120 days. One teaspoon (5mL) of healthy blood contains about 25 billion red blood cells - this means that at any one time the average adult human body (with 5L of blood) can contain around 25 trillion red blood cells. Each blood cell circulates through the blood vessels approximately every 20 seconds.
Cytoskeleton of the RBC
1 micrometer - 1,000nm
The cytoskeleton refers to a cellular skeleton, made of protein, which is present in all cells. The cytoskeleton serves the same structural function within the cell as our skeleton provides to our bodies. As well, the cytoskeleton acts like a transport network allowing cellular components to “walk” along them. There are three types of cytoskeleton structures: microfilaments, intermediate filaments, and microtubules that range in diameter from 6nm to 23nm respectively. They can grow up to 1000 times longer then they are wide, and are constrained in length by their function and the size of the cell they are in.
White Blood Cell
7 to 17 micrometers - 7,000 to 17,000nm
These cells are the guardians of our body defending against infectious disease and foreign materials as well as lending a helping hand in cleaning up. Also known as leukocytes, these cells play a key role in our immune system. In the average healthy adult, 1% of the cells in our blood are white blood cells; this would be around 50 billion in 1 litre of blood! There are several different types of white blood cells that are distinct in form and function, but all work together in the immune system to keep us healthy and strong.
Platelet
2 micrometers - 2,000nm
Platelets, the smallest cells in blood, are a key part of the healing process. When tissues are cut or torn, chemical signals cause these normally smooth cells to become spiky helping them stick to each other and the edges of the wound. This forms clots, which stop the flow of blood from the injury. The average lifespan of a platelet is just 5 to 9 days. This means our bodies must produce about 100 billion platelets each day in order to constantly replace the dead cells.
Flu - Influenza
0.13 micrometers - 130nm
A larger virus than the common cold is the flu. Humans commonly experience its chills, fever, sore throat, weakness, feeling tired, muscle pain, and the very uncomfortable symptoms of vomiting and nausea. This can be a more severe disease in certain populations, especially when a new strain emerges.
DNA
0.0025 micrometers wide - 2.5nm
DNA stands for deoxyribonucleic acid and is commonly referred to as the blueprint of life. This is because DNA contains the genetic instructions for the structure and function of all known living organisms. While DNA is only 2.5nm wide, it can be incredibly long. If the DNA from a single cell nucleus were stretched out, it would measure approximately 6 feet in length. If we took all of the DNA from every cell in one human being and laid it out end-to-end, it would reach to the moon and back 8,000 times!
Cholesterol Particle
0.022 micrometers - 22nm
Cholesterol, a type of fat, plays a role in forming cell membranes. Cholesterol is carried through the blood stream in particles containing hundreds of cholesterol molecules. These particles can form a sticky substance called plaque that thickens artery walls and can cause blood clots and heart attacks.
Hemoglobin Protein
0.0055 micrometers - 5.5nm
Red blood cells transport oxygen from the lungs to body tissues using a protein called hemoglobin. One hemoglobin protein holds four iron atoms. These iron atoms give blood its red color. One red blood cell contains approximately 170 million hemoglobin molecules that take up a third of the cell's volume.
Heme Group
1 nanometre - 1nm
These ring-shaped structures form the links between hemoglobin and the oxygen it carries. When the iron atom in a heme group connects to an oxygen molecule, the entire hemoglobin protein changes shape to allow oxygen to bind to the other groups. Each hemoglobin protein can transport four oxygen molecules.
Carbon Atom
340 picometers - 0.34nm
Atoms are the building blocks of all matter. In biology, carbon is considered the backbone for most organic molecules and a major building block. The human body consists of 65-90% water; you can consider that the solid portion of you is mostly carbon. Using nanotechnology, researchers are able to “see” atoms and have begun to even manipulate individual atoms.
Oxygen Atom
140 picometers - 0.14nm
Two oxygen atoms link to form a molecule of oxygen gas, which makes up about 21% of the earth's atmosphere and is key to almost all biological processes on the planet. Human beings use oxygen as the fuel to carryout many processes in the body. Sugar is metabolized in our bodies with oxygen to produce water, carbon dioxide (CO2), and energy. We use that energy to build other organic molecules necessary to grow and function. In plants the process is reversed in photosynthesis, which uses energy from the sun, CO2 and water to produce sugar and oxygen. Research is underway to use nanotechnology to help mimic part of the photosynthetic process and split water into hydrogen and oxygen, these gases could be used to create clean energy.
1750000000.00nm
Scale of Nano
Nano is a measurement of size - it refers to the very, very small scale. There are 1,000,000,000 nanometers in a meter. At the nanoscale, objects that are only 100 nm or smaller include individual atoms, molecules, viruses and DNA. At this scale we need specialized equipment like scanning electron microscopes to visualize these items. Explore the image and see what is on the nanoscale and compare the size of these nano objects to things you might recognize from the micro and macro worlds, like cells in our blood or the hair on our head.
What is Nano?
Nanometre, nanoscale, nanoscience, and nanotechnology, what is all this nano-stuff anyways?

A nanometer is a billion times smaller than a meter, and the nanoscale exists between 1 and 100 nanometers. Nanoscience is the discovery, research and understanding of all things nano. Nanotechnology is the practical application or use of nanoscience. Sound complicated? Check out what some people who work with nano everyday have to say.

Quantum Dots
Quantum dots refer to nanoparticles (particles on the nanoscale), which are one nanometre in size and have properties that are different from bulk materials (particles larger than the nanoscale). These quantum dots have unique electrical properties, which can be used to store electrons or to transform the color of light. Researchers are studying quantum dots and their potential applications in transistors, solar cells, LEDs, medical imaging, and quantum computing. If used in computers, atomic quantum dots could enable a revolutionary approach to computation.

A team of scientist at the National Institute of Nanotechnology, in Edmonton Alberta, has created single atom quantum dots. Previous applications have required very cold temperatures to operate, this discovery has allowed for them to work at room temperature. This brings much closer the reality of using single atoms for use in computers, which could greatly increase their efficiency.

Check out this animation to see how electrons can be controlled in a predictable way to make a nanosized switch.

The History of Nano
1959
Discovery of Nanotechnology
1959
1959
1959
Discovery of Nanotechnology

Richard Feynman is considered one of the fathers of nanotechnology. He did extensive work in atomic physics and made discoveries of the extremely small which he presented to the American Physical Society on December 29, 1959, at Caltech. The presentation title was, “There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom.” In this presentation, Feynman extended an invitation for scientists to begin manipulating and controlling things on a small scale, thereby entering a new world of physics. He proposed several concepts including writing at the nanoscale, building nanomachines and creating methods for fabrication, as well as storing digital information at the nanoscale. Feynman's presentation spurred the development of a new field of science called “nanoscience”.

1974
The Term Nanotechnology was First Used
1974
1974
1974
The Term Nanotechnology was First Used

A Japanese production engineer devoted to accuracy and precision, Norio Taniguchi of the Tokyo Science University, coined the term nanotechnology in 1974. His definition referred to a production technology to ensure superior accuracy and ultra fine dimensions on the order of 1 nanometre. The modern understanding of nanotechnology was defined years later as “The creation of functional materials, devices and systems through control of matter on the nanometre length scale (1-100 nanometres), and exploitation of novel phenomena and properties (physical, chemical, biological) at that length scale.”

1981
Scanning Tunneling Microscope is Invented.
1981
1981
1981
Scanning Tunneling Microscope is Invented.

The first scanning probe microscope, the scanning tunnelling microscope (STM), was invented by Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer in 1981. Scanning Probe Microscopes (SPM) feels across the surface of a sample with a tip so sharp it contains only one atom. The distance between the tip and the surface is measured to visualize the tiny features of the sample. The only limitation is that an STM can only image conducting surfaces since electric current is used to create the image.

1985
Buckyballs Discovered
1985
1985
1985
Buckyballs Discovered

In September 1985, a new kind of carbon family was discovered by three innovative chemists, Robert F. Curl, Sir Harold W. Kroto, and Richard E. Smalley. They worked together at Rice University in Houston, Texas to perform a set of experiments that were integral discoveries in Nanoscience. The discovery made by these three men was of a hollow, spherical, 60 carbon containing molecule, very different and much harder than graphite and diamond. It was officially named Buckminster fullerene (in honour of R. Buckminster Fuller who designed and built the first geodesic dome), but is commonly known as a buckyball.

1986
Atomic Force Microscope is Invented
1986
1986
1986
Atomic Force Microscope is Invented

Gerd Binnig (of the STM discovery), Christoph Gerber, and Calvin Quate invented the first atomic force microscope (AFM) in 1986. The AFM is a type of Scanning Probe Microscope that creates nanoscale images by “feeling” the surface with a mechanical probe. The tip is so sharp that a single atom forms the point, and this atom is placed close enough to the sample that atoms on the surface of the sample interact with the tip providing an image. The AFM is one of the foremost tools for imaging, measuring, and manipulating matter at the nanoscale. While the resolution is not as high as a STM, the AFM has the benefit of being able to image both conducting and insulating surfaces.

1988
Quantum Dots Discovered
1988
1988
1988
Quantum Dots Discovered

Quantum dots were discovered in the early 1980's by Alexei Ekimov and Louis E. Brus. Quantum dots are nanometre sized metallic or semiconductive particles. These quantum dots have unique electrical properties which can be used to store electrons, or to transform the colour of light. Electronic characteristics of quantum dots are closely related to the size and shape of the individual crystal, which can be grown in a controlled way to precise dimensions. Generally, the smaller the size of the crystal the more energy is needed to excite the dot and subsequently the more energy is released when the crystal returns to its resting state. Researchers are studying quantum dots and potential applications in transistors, solar cells, LEDs, medical imaging, and quantum computing. The term “quantum dot” was created by Mark Reed in 1988.

1990
Atom Manipulation is Showcased With the Creation of the IBM Logo.
1990
1990
1990
Atom Manipulation is Showcased With the Creation of the IBM Logo.

Donald Eigler achieved a landmark in nanoscience by demonstrating the ability to manipulate individual atoms with atomic-scale precision. On September 28, 1989 he wrote IBM using 35 individual xenon atoms at the IBM Almaden Research Center. He wrote this by using a low temperature ultra high vacuum scanning tunnelling microscope that he designed and built.

1991
Carbon Nanotubes Discovered
1991
1991
1991
Carbon Nanotubes Discovered

Another form of fullerene, a molecule composed entirely of carbon, was discovered by Sumio Iijima consisting of cylindrical tube-like molecules made up of graphene sheets (a single layer of carbon molecules shaped in connected hexagons, a honeycomb-like pattern). They are extremely strong materials and have good thermal conductivity. Carbon nanotubes are extremely thin (their diameter is about 10,000 times smaller than a human hair). A single walled nanotube (SWNT) is composed of one rolled graphite sheet; if multiple sheets are used they are named multiwalled nanotube (MWNT).

Late 90's
Introduction of Nanotechnologies Unto Consumer Products
Late 90's
Late 90's
Late 90's
Introduction of Nanotechnologies Unto Consumer Products

The first generation of nanotechnology containing consumer products is introduced to market with isolated applications, such as titanium dioxide nanoparticles in sunscreen. The development of nanotechnology is usually divided into four stages or generations.

  • The first generation involves passive nanostructures; the individual nanostructures have interesting properties or interactions with the environment that occur passively (without applied energy or force) and are used together as coatings, nanoparticles, or bulk materials (nanostructured metals, ceramics, polymers).
  • The second generation involves active nanostructures; the properties of individual nanostructures are used actively in creating the output of a device through applied energy or force in structures such as transistors, actuators, amplifiers, or nanocrystalline LED's.
  • The third generation will consist of three dimensional nanosystems built with different nanocomponents such as in nanosized circuits or sensors.
  • The fourth generation will consist of many different nanocomponents working together in a molecular nanosystem, where each molecule in the system has a specific structure and plays a different role perhaps in nanorobotics.
1999
Dip Pen Nanolithography
1999
1999
1999
Dip Pen Nanolithography

DPN or Dip Pen Nanolithography was developed by Chad Mirkin and coworkers as an “ink” and “paper” approach to patterned self-assembling monolayer's (SAM) on gold. A SAM is a layer that is a single molecule thick and the self-assembly refers to the “ink” molecule on the “pen” sticking to the “paper” surface. This approach involves using the tip of an atomic force microscope as the “pen” to transfer an “ink” such as alkanethiol through capillary action to the underlying gold surface. This technique is currently not rapid enough to be considered for nanofabrication; however, DPN can deliver minuscule amounts of molecules from the AFM tip to the substrate at high resolution and is therefore a promising technique.

The Future
The Future of Nano
The Future
The Future
The Future
The Future of Nano

We have already begun to see first generation (starting in the early 90's and coming out with many applications starting in 2001), second generation (introduced in 2005), and soon third generation nanotechnology in 2011. These generations have been illustrated in several different commercial applications including: nanomaterials used to add strength to composite materials in tennis rackets, baseball bats, and bicycles as well as applied as coatings on fabrics to make them stain resistant or glass to keep it clean, resist oil, and be scratch resistant. Nanostructered catalysts are used to make chemical manufacturing processes more efficient, while saving energy and reducing the waste products. Almost all electronic devices manufactured in the last decade use some nanomaterials to build transistors and interconnects for the fastest, most advanced computer chips.

Research is ongoing with hopes of introducing nanotechnology based medicine such as using nanoparticles to deliver drugs directly to the site it is needed or to make medical imaging tools, like MRIs and CAT scans work safer and more efficient. Medical diagnostics, with the help of nanotechnology, may soon be used in your doctor's office for fast analysis without having to wait while the samples are sent to a lab. The energy industry will use nanocatalysts in fuel cells, nanoparticles in batteries for higher capacity and longer life, and nanomaterials for better solar energy applications. Nanosensors may be used in food packaging to detect germs and spoilage. Building materials will be stronger, lighter, and more durable. The fourth generation of nanotechnology is projected to be introduced as early as 2020 with highly advanced developments such as molecular manufacturing and fabrication, which allow atomically precise materials and systems that could virtually eliminate defects. Perhaps one day we may even see nanorobotic systems with applications such as nanosurgery inside our bodies, even inside our cells. The applications of nanotechnology are limitless, as our knowledge and technology progresses it is a new frontier of discovery and application.

The History of Nano
Scroll through the history of nano. Tap an image to explore.
1

Use your finger as the tip of a scanning probe microscope to build a structure, atom by atom, based on the outlined template. This procedure could one day allow scientists to custom build all sorts of nano sized structures from the ground up. Use your imagination the possibilities are endless!

2

Choose your shape

         
3

Choose your atom

Building With Nano
Nanotechnology is making it possible for scientist to manipulate and move single atoms. Currently, we have the ability to slowly drag individual atoms across a smooth surface using the tip of a scanning probe microscope. While manipulation in this fashion can form very basic two-dimensional structures, such as nano-sized letters or shapes, there is a lot of work ahead to build 3D objects and functional materials. As nanotechnology progresses in its ability to manipulate and control the orientation and position of atoms, atomic engineering will become a reality.

Module 1 : SEM Image Gallery

Images provided by the National Institute of Nanotechnology, University of Alberta

Module 2: Scale of Nano

Exploratorium: Developed for the NISE Network with funding from the National Science Foundation under Award Numbers 0532536 and 0940143.

Module 3: What is Nano?

Dr. Nils Petersen, Director General, NINT, Micralyne
Maziyar Khorasani, VP Business Development, Biolithic Corporation

Module 4: Quantum Dot Animation

Video provided by Robert A. Wolkow, University of Alberta

Module 5: The Numbers on Nano

Palmberg, C., H. Dernis, and C. Miguet. 2009. Nanotechnology: An Overview Based on Indicators and Statistics. STI Working Paper 2009/7: Statistical Analyis of Science, Technology and Industry. OECD.

Module 7: Nano in Nature, World's Smallest

Car

Images and video provided by James Tour, Rice University.

Guitar

Images and video provided by Harold Craighead, Cornell University.

Card

Image provided by David Cummings, University of Glasgow.

Snowman

Images and video provided by David Cox, National Physical Laboratory

Map

Image provided by Paul Rothemund, Caltech.
Image and video provided by IBM – Zurich Research.

Gecko

Images provided by Kellar Autumn, Lewis & Clark College.
Images provided by Bjorn Christian Torrissen
Video provided by the Anthony Russell, University of Calgary.

Lotus

Video provided by Nanoyou, and The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Community's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement n° 233433.

Beetle

Image provided by Jeremy Galusha, University of Utah.

Moth

Paivanranta, B., T. Saastamoinen, and M. Kuittinen. 2009. A wide-angle antireflection surface for the visible spectrum. Nanotechnology. 20(37): 1-7.
Image provided by Dartmouth Electron Microscope Facility, Dartmouth College

Credits

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