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This resource provides explanations of the key concepts encountered when exploring nanoscience – the ‘basics’ that every student should understand.

Atoms and elements

Atoms are tiny building blocks of matter. They are made of smaller particles (electrons, protons and neutrons) – the number of these is what makes one atom different from another. An element is made of only one type of atom; a compound has more than one type of atom.

Microscopes

Microscopes play an important part in nanotechnology. Electron microscopes and scanning probe microscopes enable us to see nanoparticles, even single atoms. Atomic force microscopes can also be used to move individual atoms about, which may help in the assembly of nano devices in the future.

Nanoparticle structure and properties

A key thing about nanoparticles of 1–100 nanometres is that they have different properties (for example, colour, melting point and chemical activity) to the same stuff at a larger scale. This means that one way to control the properties of some new materials is to change their size, not chemical composition.

Nanoparticles

Nanoscale particles have at least one dimension less than 100 nanometres (1 nanometre is a billionth of a metre). DNA is an example of a natural nanoparticle. Scientists assemble atoms into a range of tiny structures, such as nanotubes, nanowires, nanofilms, nanocrystals and quantum dots, each with useful special properties.

Nanotechnologist

Nanotechnologists come from many branches of science, including chemistry, physics, biology, medicine, computing and engineering. They use their various skills to work on nanoscale materials and processes. Most nanotechnology relies on collaboration between different scientists.

Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology is about understanding and applying the science of the ultra-small. It explores the special properties of stuff at the nanoscale (1–100 nanometres; 1 nanometre is a billionth of a metre) and uses them to make new materials and devices. Nanotechnology also develops tools and chemicals for working at the nanoscale.

Periodic table

The periodic table of elements is an important scientific tool. It puts all the known elements into groups with similar properties. You can use the table to work out properties of elements, and predict how they will react together. This prediction is vital when you wish to create new materials.

    Published 24 June 2008