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  • Nanoscience involves the study of chemical and physical changes that happen at the nanoscale. Researchers and scientists are interested in the nanoscale, because when many materials get down to these tiny sizes, they start to behave differently.

    Rights: National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

    Nanogears – part of a molecular machine

    Molecule-sized gears attached to the outside of a carbon nanotube shaft. An electric field will make a shaft turn. This is a computer model, but research is under way to make the real thing.

    Author: NASA Ames Research Center

    The article Nanoscience explained provides an overview of nanotechnology – its history and some future possibilities in the nanotechnology field. Nanometres and nanoscale gives practical explanations of these concepts.

    Nanoscience has numerous applications in industrial and biomedical research, and Hub articles feature scientists working in both of these fields. Science articles and student activities support the New Zealand research stories and clarify the underlying science ideas and concepts.

    New Zealand research – industrial applications

    Professor Richard Haverkamp and his team are interested in the use of nanotechnology catalysts to improve the efficiency of fuel cells. Electrocatalysts for future fuels and Gold nanoparticles from plants detail their investigations. Meanwhile, Associate Professor Richard Tilley and his team are making new nanoparticle shapes to increase the efficiency of catalysts and reduce poisonous emissions from car exhausts.

    Chemical reactions and catalysts are two of the big science ideas that underpin the research stories. To explore the nanoscience connection, students can use modelling clay to construct catalyst nanoparticle shapes and calculate surface area:volume ratios with the aim of trying to develop a more efficient shape.

    Rights: The University of Waikato Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato

    Making a nanofilm

    View inside a vacuum chamber while a nanofilm is being grown. The blue glow is the metal gadolinium being evaporated. The bright yellow is a heater, where the gadolinium nitride film is growing.

    Many other New Zealand scientists are also involved in nanoscience research. For example, Professor John Spencer works with carbon nanotubes – learn more about nanotubes in the timeline From Faraday to nanotubes. Dr Ben Ruck makes thin films of rare-earth materials. His research interests include spintronics – an emerging technology with applications for the next generation of computer hard drives.

    New Zealand research – biomedical applications

    Associate Professor Richard Tilley also works in the biomedical area – exploring the use of quantum dots to find and eventually target drug delivery to cancerous cells. Dr Tilley relies on tools that allow him to see and work at the nanoscale. Seeing atoms explains how powerful microscopes have opened up this field of research.

    Rights: The University of Waikato Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato

    Richard Tilley

    Dr Richard Tilley using an electron microscope.

    Dr Carla Meledandri won a KiwiNet Research Commercialisation Award in 2016 for her work using silver nanoparticles to prevent dental disease. The nanoparticles function as antimicrobials and help to prevent tooth decay and infections.

    These are just a few of the Kiwi scientists working with nanotechnology. The New Zealand Government has committed significant funding to this area of research. The Science for Technological Innovation National Science Challenge and Centres of Research Excellence are examples of collaborative initiatives to develop novel materials or technologies that will help deliver economic, environmental and health benefits to the country.

    If you are a scientist working in nanoscience and you would like your work featured on the Science Learning Hub, please get in touch with us.

    Nanotechnology and innovation and related articles

    Nanotechnology offers exciting possibilities for innovation in industry. Revolution Fibres is a high-tech start-up company that produces commercial quantities of electrospun nanofibre. They are one of only a few companies worldwide and the only company in Australasia able to do this. Nanofibres offer a variety of possibilities from air filtration to cosmetic applications.

    The Revolution Fibres story

    In this video, Revolution Fibres founders Iain Hosie and Simon Feasey describe how they found a gap in the market for the commercial production of nanofibres.

    Take up the challenge

    Student activities encourage students to explore both the practical and the social aspects of nanotechnology. Measure a molecule uses simple measurements and mathematical equations to calculate the length of a detergent molecule. Probing fridge magnets investigates the principle behind scanning probe and magnetic force microscopes. In Seeing the invisible, students use mystery boxes to map an image – analogous to how nanotechnologists create images at the nanoscale. Social issues and nanotechnology encourages students to think about the positive and negative factors of nanotechnology in their daily lives.

    Question bank

    The Nanoscience – question bank provides a list of questions about nanoscience and places where their answers can be found. The questions support an inquiry approach.

    Key terms

    For explanations of key concepts, see Nanoscience – key terms.

      Published 27 January 2017, Updated 16 March 2021 Referencing Hub articles
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