Nanotech Frontiers: Glossary of Nanotechnology Terms
Atom: the smallest unit of a chemical element, about a third of a nanometer in diameter. Atoms make up molecules and solid objects.
Atomic force microscope: a high-powered instrument able to image surfaces to molecular accuracy by mechanically probing their surface contours.
Buckyball: geodesic spheres named for visionary engineer R. Buckminster Fuller, inventor of the geodesic sphere. Buckyballs are strong, rigid natural molecules arranged in a series of interlocking hexagonal shapes, forming structures that resemble soccer balls. One individual buckyball comprises exactly 60 carbon atoms. In 1996, Richard Smalley received the Nobel Prize in chemistry for his discovery of buckyballs.
Feynman: Nanotechnology traces its roots to the pioneering work of physicist Richard Feynman. In 1959, Feynman delivered a landmark speech in which he proposed a link between biology and manufacturing. He explained how biological cells manufacture substances. Feynman urged his audience "to consider the possibility that we, too, can make a thing very small, which does what we want-that we can manufacture an object than maneuvers at that level."
Fullerene: a molecular form of pure carbon that was discovered in 1985. They are cage-like structures of carbon atoms.
Mechanochemistry: chemistry that deals with the conversion of chemical energy into mechanical work, or vice versa.
Molecule: a group of atoms held together by chemical bonds; the typical units manipulated by nanotechnology.
Molecular manufacturing: production using molecular machinery, giving molecule-by-molecule control of products and by-products via positional chemical synthesis. Molecular manufacturing promises to be more efficient than traditional manufacturing, resulting in better quality products, by assembling products directly from the smallest pieces: Atoms and molecules.
Nano: a prefix meaning one-billionth. It comes from the Greek word nanos ("dwarf").
Nanochemical: refers to chemistry accomplished by mechanical systems directly controlling reactant molecules-the formation or breaking of chemical bonds under direct mechanical control.
Nanocomposite: a material that is stiffer and lighter than traditional thermoplastics, and less brittle in cold temperatures. Nanocomposites are made by introducing a solid material into a plastic resin to give it added strength. Because there is less additive material, they are more recyclable than olefins and other thermoplastics.
Nanofabrication: the practice of sculpting or building, with man-made tools, products, structures and processes with atomic precision.
Nanomanipulation: the process of building things from the bottom up, atom by atom. Nanomanipulation can be classified into two categories: Nanofabrication and self-assembly.
Nanomechanical: refers to a small, mechanical device, such as a robot, that can manipulate single molecules.
Nanometer: one-billionth of a meter, which is approximately the width of 10 hydrogen atoms. The width of the dot above the letter "i" in this sentence is approximately 1 million nanometers. The diameter of an average hair is 50,000 nanometers.
Nanotechnology: the science of manipulating atoms and molecules to fabricate materials, devices and systems. Unlike current production methods, in which existing parts and components are combined, nanotechnology takes atoms and precisely assembles them to produce items with desirable characteristics. Objects are built in a manner similar to the way bricks are stacked on top of one another to build a wall. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term "nanotechnology" was coined in 1974.
Nanotube: a tiny, hollow cylinder with an outside diameter of a nanometer that is formed spontaneously from atoms such as carbon. When aligned in a certain way, their atoms can conduct electricity as effectively as copper. Aligned in a slightly different way, they are electrical semiconductors-midway between conductors and insulators. Nanotubes are also stronger than steel, so long filaments can be used to create super-tough lightweight materials.
Self-assembly: the process of atoms and molecules adhering in a self-regulating fashion, whereby specific atoms and molecules bind to one another based on their size, shape, composition or chemical properties. Molecular self-assembly is compatible with traditional chip-making tools, making it attractive for microelectronic applications. The goal is to have nanocircuits self-assemble, enabling large-scale manufacturing of nanoscale electronics.