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Nanomaterials is the study of how materials behave when their dimensions are reduced to the nanoscale. It can also refer to the materials themselves that are used in nanotechnology.

Additional recommended knowledge


Fundamental concepts

A unique aspect of nanotechnology is the vastly increased ratio of surface area to volume present in many nanoscale materials which opens new possibilities in surface-based science, such as catalysis. A number of physical phenomena become noticeably pronounced as the size of the system decreases. These include statistical mechanical effects, as well as quantum mechanical effects, for example the “quantum size effect” where the electronic properties of solids are altered with great reductions in particle size. This effect does not come into play by going from macro to micro dimensions. However, it becomes dominant when the nanometer size range is reached. Additionally, a number of physical properties change when compared to macroscopic systems. One example is the increase in surface area to volume of materials. Novel mechanical properties of nanomaterials is the subject of nanomechanics research. Their catalytic activity reveals novel properties in the interaction with biomaterials.

Nanotechnology can be thought of as extensions of traditional disciplines towards the explicit consideration of these properties. Additionally, traditional disciplines can be re-interpreted as specific applications of nanotechnology. This dynamic reciprocation of ideas and concepts contributes to the modern understanding of the field. Broadly speaking, nanotechnology is the synthesis and application of ideas from science and engineering towards the understanding and production of novel materials and devices. These products generally make copious use of physical properties associated with small scales.

Materials reduced to the nanoscale can suddenly show very different properties compared to what they exhibit on a macroscale, enabling unique applications. For instance, opaque substances become transparent (copper); inert materials become catalysts (platinum); stable materials turn combustible (aluminum); solids turn into liquids at room temperature (gold); insulators become conductors (silicon). Materials such as gold, which is chemically inert at normal scales, can serve as a potent chemical catalyst at nanoscales. Much of the fascination with nanotechnology stems from these unique quantum and surface phenomena that matter exhibits at the nanoscale.

Nanosize powder particles (a few nanometres in diameter, also called nanoparticles) are potentially important in ceramics, powder metallurgy, the achievement of uniform nanoporosity and similar applications. The strong tendency of small particles to form clumps ("agglomerates") is a serious technological problem that impedes such applications. However, a few dispersants such as ammonium citrate (aqueous) and imidazoline or oleyl alcohol (nonaqueous) are promising additives for deagglomeration. (Dispersants are discussed in "Organic Additives And Ceramic Processing," by Daniel J. Shanefield, Kluwer Academic Publ., Boston.)

Size concerns

Another concern is that the volume of an object decreases as the third power of its linear dimensions, but the surface area only decreases as its second power. This somewhat subtle and unavoidable principle has huge ramifications. For example the power of a drill (or any other machine) is proportional to the volume, while the friction of the drill's bearings and gears is proportional to their surface area. For a normal-sized drill, the power of the device is enough to handily overcome any friction. However, scaling its length down by a factor of 1000, for example, decreases its power by 10003 (a factor of a billion) while reducing the friction by only 10002 (a factor of "only" a million). Proportionally it has 1000 times less power per unit friction than the original drill. If the original friction-to-power ratio was, say, 1%, that implies the smaller drill will have 10 times as much friction as power. The drill is useless.

This is why, while super-miniature electronic integrated circuits can be made to function, the same technology cannot be used to make functional mechanical devices in miniature: the friction overtakes the available power at such small scales. So while you may see microphotographs of delicately etched silicon gears, such devices are curiosities with limited real world applications, for example in moving mirrors and shutters. Surface tension increases in the same way, causing very small objects to tend to stick together. This could possibly make any kind of "micro factory" impractical: even if robotic arms and hands could be scaled down, anything they pick up will tend to be impossible to put down. The above being said, molecular evolution has resulted in working cilia, flagella, muscle fibers, and rotary motors in aqueous environments, all on the nanoscale. These machines, however, exploit the increase of the frictional forces found at the micro or nanoscale. Unlike an oar, paddle or propeller the mechanics of which are dominated by normal frictional forces (the frictional forces perpendicular to the surface) for propulsion, cilia, etc., develop motion resulting from the exaggerated drag or laminar forces (frictional forces parallel to the surface) present at micro and nano dimensions. To develop meaningful "machines" at the nanoscale, the relevant forces need to be considered. We are faced with the development and design of relevant machines rather than the simple reproductions of macroscopic ones.

All these scaling issues have to be kept in mind while evaluating any kind of nanotechnology.

Materials used in nanotechnology

Materials referred to as "nanomaterials" generally fall into two categories: fullerenes, and inorganic nanoparticles. See also Nanomaterials in List of nanotechnology topics



Main article: Fullerene

The fullerenes are a class of allotropes of carbon which conceptually are graphene sheets rolled into tubes or spheres. These include the carbon nanotubes which are of interest due to both their mechanical strength and their electrical properties.

For the past decade, the chemical and physical properties of fullerenes have been a hot topic in the field of research and development, and are likely to continue to be for a long time. In April 2003, fullerenes were under study for potential medicinal use: binding specific antibiotics to the structure to target resistant bacteria and even target certain cancer cells such as melanoma. The October 2005 issue of Chemistry and Biology contains an article describing the use of fullerenes as light-activated antimicrobial agents. In the field of nanotechnology, heat resistance and superconductivity are some of the more heavily studied properties.

A common method used to produce fullerenes is to send a large current between two nearby graphite electrodes in an inert atmosphere. The resulting carbon plasma arc between the electrodes cools into sooty residue from which many fullerenes can be isolated.

There are many calculations that have been done using ab-initio Quantum Methods applied to fullerenes. By DFT and TDDFT methods one can obtain IR, Raman and UV spectra. Results of such calculations can be compared with experimental results.


Main article: Nanoparticle

Nanoparticles or nanocrystals made of metals, semiconductors, or oxides are of interest for their electrical, optical, and chemical properties. Nanoparticles have been used as quantum dots and as chemical catalysts.

Nanoparticles are of great scientific interest as they are effectively a bridge between bulk materials and atomic or molecular structures. A bulk material should have constant physical properties regardless of its size, but at the nano-scale this is often not the case. Size-dependent properties are observed such as quantum confinement in semiconductor particles, surface plasmon resonance in some metal particles and superparamagnetism in magnetic materials.

Nanoparticles exhibit a number of special properties relative to bulk material. For example, the bending of bulk copper (wire, ribbon, etc.) occurs with movement of copper atoms/clusters at about the 50 nm scale. Copper nanoparticles smaller than 50 nm are considered super hard materials that do not exhibit the same malleability and ductility as bulk copper. The change in properties is not always desirable. Ferroelectric materials smaller than 10 nm can switch their magnetisation direction using room temperature thermal energy, thus making them useless for memory storage. Suspensions of nanoparticles are possible because the interaction of the particle surface with the solvent is strong enough to overcome differences in density, which usually result in a material either sinking or floating in a liquid. Nanoparticles often have unexpected visible properties because they are small enough to confine their electrons and produce quantum effects. For example gold nanoparticles appear deep red to black in solution.

Nanoparticles have a very high surface area to volume ratio. This provides a tremendous driving force for diffusion, especially at elevated temperatures. Sintering can take place at lower temperatures, over shorter time scales than for larger particles. This theoretically does not affect the density of the final product, though flow difficulties and the tendency of nanoparticles to agglomerate complicates matters. The surface effects of nanoparticles also reduces the incipient melting temperature.

Safety of Manufactured Nanomaterials

Nanomaterials behave differently than other similarly-sized particles. It is therefore necessary to develop specialized approaches to testing and monitoring their effects on human health and on the environment. The OECD Chemicals Committee has established the Working Party on Manufactured Nanomaterials to address this issue and to study the practices of OECD member countries in regards to nanomaterial safety.[1]

While nanomaterials and nanotechnologies are expected to yield numerous health and health care advances, such as more targeted methods of delivering drugs, new cancer therapies, and methods of early detection of diseases, they also may have unwanted effects. [2] Increased toxicity is the main concern associated with manufactured nanoparticles.

When materials are made into nanoparticles, their reactivity increases. These more reactive particles can enter the body through the skin, lungs, or digestive tract, and may cause inflammation and damage to the lungs as well as other organs. However, the particles must be absorbed in sufficient quantities in order to pose health risks.[3]

See also


  1. ^ “Safety of Manufactured Nanomaterials: About,” OECD Environment Directorate,, 18 July 2007 .
  2. ^ Small Sizes that Matter: Opportunities and Risks of Nanotechnologies, Joint report of the Allianz Center for Technology and the OECD International Futures Programme, ed. Dr. Christoph Lauterwasser, 18 July 2007 (28).
  3. ^ Small Sizes that Matter: Opportunities and Risks of Nanotechnologies, Joint report of the Allianz Center for Technology and the OECD International Futures Programme, ed. Dr. Christoph Lauterwasser, 18 July 2007 (30-32).
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Nanomaterials". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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