A Journey into the World of Atoms and Molecules

[1] Nanotechnology refers to a cluster of technologies directed to making, studying and manipulating structures at the nanometre scale. The prefix ‘nano’ comes from the Greek word nanos meaning dwarf, i.e. nano refers to something small. Nano designates 10-9 which means that one nanometre (nm) is one thousand millionth of a metre (Table 1).

[2] Research on the nanoscale is not new in the sense that researchers have studied atoms and molecules for well over a century. However, it is not this ‘old-fashioned’ nanotechnology that creates so much interest. What is new about nanotechnology is the fact that researchers are now capable of handling and characterizing nanostructures by means of advanced microscopes and thus are gaining the power to alter physical structure at the atomic level.

[3] Research into nanotechnology is heterogeneous. This means it involves a huge variety of dissimilar elements or materials; for instance it includes the transmission of drugs to cells, nanobiosensors, microelectronics, nanooptics, chemical catalysis, hydrogen technology, material surfaces and biocompatible materials like e.g. implants (Table 2). As appears from these research areas, a variety of disciplines contribute to nanotechnology, such as physics, chemistry, molecular biology, biology, medicine, electronics, engineering and materials science work. Some of its potential is suggested in the various graphics and tables that follow.

[4] To fully capitalise on the visions of nanotechnology it is important to establish a close collaboration between the various disciplines involved in nanotechnology. Hence, nanoscience centres have been established in order to create a framework for co-operation, sharing of knowledge and the development of a culture beyond traditional disciplinary boundaries. Internationally, the goal is also to integrate the humanities and the social sciences into this emerging interdisciplinary approach to nanotechnology. To achieve this goal many governments have called upon studies in risk assessment, social science aspects and ethics considerations in parallel with the more traditional nanotechnology research proposals.


1. ETC Group (2003).The Big Down: Atomtech – Technologies Converging at the Nano-scale.
2. TT Transtechnics http://www.transtechnics.com/eng/conceptos1.htm eng/conceptos1.htm
3. The ABB Group www.abb.com