Nanotechnology is very diverse, ranging from extensions of conventional device physics to completely new approaches based upon molecular self-assembly, from developing new materials with dimensions on the nanoscale to investigating whether we can directly control matter on the atomic scale.
Nanotechnology creates many new materials and devices with a vast range of applications, such as in medicine, electronics and energy production. It raises many of the same issues as with any introduction of new technology, including concerns about the toxicity and environmental impact of nanomaterials, and their potential effects on global economics, as well as speculation about various doomsday scenarios.
The ability to control matter at the nanoscale allows us to take advantage of phenomena which predominate at these length scales, leading to the production of novel materials and devices exhibiting qualitatively different properties and functions than those of the corresponding bulk materials.
This field is loosely divided into four subareas:
The first addresses some of the most far-reaching yet practical applications of miniature instruments for measuring atoms or molecules in chemical, clinical, or biochemical analysis; in biotechnology for agent detection; and environmental analysis.
The second category is nanoelectronics, which concerns the development of systems and materials required for the electronics industry to go beyond current technological limits, producing even finer detail than features in a high-performance microprocessor chip. Also in this category is a new generation of electronics based on plastics, which is expected to create new markets with applications ranging from smart cards to tube-like computers.
The third is nano-biosystems, which can be described as molecular manipulation of biomaterials and the associated miniaturization of analytical devices such as DNA, peptide, protein, and cell chips.
The last category, nanoengineered materials, looks at several classes of advanced materials including nanocrystalline materials and nanopowders used in electronics and photonics applications, as catalysts in automobiles, in the food and pharmaceutical industries, as membranes for fuel cells, and for industrial-scale polymers.
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