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Interesting Facts About Nanotechnology - History, Examples, and Applications

A botany graduate, Nithya Venkat enjoys researching and writing about topics that interest her.

Nanotechnology is the science that deals with the study and application of things at a tiny scale called the nanoscale.

What makes nanotechnology interesting is that the properties of a material change with the change in size at a nanoscale. The changes take place at the atomic and molecular levels of a material.

Though Richard Feynman introduced nanotechnology concepts in 1959, materials at a nanoscale were used centuries ago.

Comparison of things on a nanoscale

Comparison of things on a nanoscale

What is a nanoscale?

In the International System of Units, nano means one-billionth of a meter and is represented by the standard symbol nm.

A cm is 1/100th of a meter.

A millimeter is 1/1000th of a meter.

A micrometer is 1/1,000,000th of a meter (one-millionth of a meter)

A nanometer is 1/ 1,000,000,000th of a meter, one-billionth of a meter.

Here are examples of how small a nanometer can be –

  • one inch is about 25.4 million nanometers
  • a single water molecule is about 1.5 nanometers
  • a sheet of paper is about 100,000 nanometers thick
  • a human hair measures about 80,000 to 100,000 nanometers in diameter
  • a strand of human DNA is 2.5 nanometers in diameter

A nanometer is used to measure tiny things. For example, the smallest part of any material is the atom. This atom is measured in nanometers.

History of Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology has been around since the fourth century. However, the craftsmen who used such techniques did not know about the concept of nanotechnology in scientific terms.

But what they did to create artifacts was similar to the nanotechnology we know today.

Lycurgus Cup

Lycurgus Cup

Examples of Nanotechnology in Ancient Times

Nanotechnology has been used from ancient times and dates back to the fourth century, during which the Romans made the Lycurgus Cup. The following are examples of the use of nanotechnology in ancient times.

Lycurgus Cup

The Lycurgus Cup, made in the 4th century in Rome, appeared to be of two different colors depending upon the angle of the light rays.

The Lycurgus Cup seemed green when lit outside and red when lit from the inside. The glassmakers in those days achieved this effect by using colloidal gold and silver nanoparticles.

South Rose Window of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris

South Rose Window of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris

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Stained Glass Windows

Another example of nanotechnology in ancient times is the vibrantly stained glass windows used in the cathedrals of Europe.

The stained glasses used in the cathedrals' construction had rich, vibrant colors that were achieved by using nanoparticles of gold, metal oxides, and other chlorides.

The south rose window of Notre Dame Cathedral is an example of such an effect.

Early Stages of Nanotechnology

In 1981, Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer at IBM’s Zurich Lab invented the Scanning Tunneling Microscope.

Using the Scanning Tunnelling Microscope, scientists could work at the atomic level of any material. As a result, scientists could manipulate the material's atoms and develop new materials with better properties than the original material.

In 1986, Gerd Binnig, Calvin Quate, and Christopher Gerber invented the atomic force microscope. Scientists could view, measure and rearrange atoms to fractions of nanometers using the atomic force microscope.

In 1989, Don Eigler and Erhard Schweizer at IBM's Almaden Research Center worked with 35 individual Xenon atoms to spell out the IBM logo. The creation of the IBM logo proved that atoms could be manipulated precisely.

Notice the change in color as the size changes

Notice the change in color as the size changes

Change in color of gold with the change in size

With the advance in the field of microscopy, powerful microscopes were invented that helped scientists to manipulate materials at the nanoscale.

A material's original properties change as the particles' size becomes smaller and smaller. Properties such as melting point, fluorescence, electrical conductivity, magnetic permeability, and chemical reactivity of a material change with the change in size at the nanoscale.

For example, gold is yellow, but particles can appear in different colors at the nanoscale gold.

The color change is because the gold particles at a nanoscale react with light differently when compared to gold particles on a larger scale.

Nanoparticles of gold can be manipulated to accumulate selectively in tumor cells. This selective accumulation can help image the tumor and target the tumor cells without destroying the healthy cells.

Notice the increase in surface area

Notice the increase in surface area

Why do properties of a material change with the change in size?

The change in nanoparticles' properties is also because of the increase in the surface area as the particle size decreases.

As a particle reduces in size, more atoms are exposed and come to the surface, thereby increasing the surface area.

For example, one gram of nanoparticles would have thousands of times greater surface area when compared to one gram of bulk material.

The increase in the surface area at a nanoscale offers room for many improvements on the original material.

Applications of Nanotechnology

Here are some examples of the application of nanotechnology -

Field of Medicine

Nanotechnology is the field of medicine that helps target diseased cells and administer medication directly to these cells without destroying healthy cells.

Nanoparticles are being engineered to deliver medicines directly to cancer cells. Companies such as CytImmune and Bind Biosciences have conducted clinical trials of such medications.

Researchers at the University of Illinois have shown that gelatin nanoparticles can deliver medicines directly to damaged brain tissue.

Researchers at MIT are working to come up with nanoparticles to deliver vaccines. Another research aims to develop nanoparticles to prevent virus reproduction in a patient’s blood.

Research in nanotechnology is being conducted on a large scale to develop effective methods to control and treat diseases.

Field of Electronics

Nanolithography has led to the manufacture of memory chips with sizes as small as 20 nm. In addition, magnetic nanowires made of iron and nickel alloy are being used to create memory devices with greater capacities.

Researchers at North Carolina State University are growing nanodots that are about 6 nm in diameter. A memory device's storage capacity can increase phenomenally by using billions of 6 nm diameter dots.

Carbon nanotubes are used to make lightweight, millimeter-thick nano-emissive display panels.

Nanotechnology is being researched and applied across many other fields.

To Summarize

Nanotechnology deals with things at a nanoscale. As the size of a particle decreases, the properties of the particle change exponentially.

By manipulating particles at a nanoscale, scientists can develop ideas to improve the properties of existing products and manufacture new products with better features that can be used across fields of application.


National Nanotechnology Initiative

Science Learning Hub

MRSEC Education Group

© 2016 Nithya Venkat


Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on April 28, 2020:

Thank you Muhammad Naseem.

Muhammad Naseem from Pakistan Barnala Bhimber on April 28, 2020:

what a fabulous article.


Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on December 17, 2016:

AudreyHowitt thank you.

Audrey Howitt from California on December 17, 2016:

What a great article! Thank you!

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on October 26, 2016:

DDE thank you.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on October 25, 2016:

Sounds an awesome idea! You have produced an amazing hub.

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on October 14, 2016:

teaches12345 thank you for your visit and comment. Nanotechnology is interesting, and it is exciting even to think what all nanotechnology can lead to.

Dianna Mendez on October 14, 2016:

This is such a fascinating topic. I love your chart on the size change examples. Thank you for the interesting read.

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on October 02, 2016:

BlossomSB, our ancestors, knew a lot of things before us. Now we are rediscovering what they knew. Glad you enjoyed reading.

Bronwen Scott-Branagan from Victoria, Australia on October 02, 2016:

I especially enjoyed reading about nanotechnology in ancient times. Our ancestors may not have heard of the term, but they certainly knew a thing or two, didn't they? So interesting.

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on September 30, 2016:

AliciaC thank you and am glad you enjoyed reading about nanotechnology.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on September 30, 2016:

This is a very interesting article, Vellur. I enjoyed reading it a great deal. Nanotechnology is fascinating!

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on September 30, 2016:

billybuc thank you for your visit and read.

FlourishAnyway thank you for your visit, nanotechnology is really amazing.

FlourishAnyway from USA on September 29, 2016:

This is a fascinating topic and the examples of applications are promising. Excellent technology hub!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on September 29, 2016:

This stuff is so far beyond me as to be funny. I can't even wrap my brain around it, it's so foreign to my simple mind. :) Thanks for the mini-lesson.

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on September 29, 2016:

Nell Rose nanotechnology is totally awesome and am glad you enjoyed the read.

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on September 29, 2016:

ChtirangadaSharan thank you for your appreciation and am happy you got to know more about nanotechnology.

always exploring thank you. We are slowly but surely killing cancer cells. The front door must be looking beautiful with the stained glass.

Venkatachari M thank you for your visit and share. Am glad to know that you came to know more about nanotechnology.

Nell Rose from England on September 29, 2016:

Awesome stuff Vellur! I love anything like this, and nanotechnology totally fascinates me! great read!

Venkatachari M from Hyderabad, India on September 29, 2016:

A brilliant explanation of nanotechnology. I simply knew that nanotechnology deals with minute particles. But your article explained me a lot and am much pleased to learn about this. Thanks for it.

Sharing it on G+.

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on September 29, 2016:

I am a total nerd when it comes to technology, but this is very interesting, especially the gelatin nanoparticles in medicine. I feel that we are getting close to solving the cancer tumor cells. I also loved the stained glass windows. Before I downsized to a smaller house sixteen months ago, I had a front door that was stained glass, and I loved it. This is an amazing article, and I understand a little bit more. Thank you for writing this. BTW I have a grandson, Chad who is a technology nut ( that's all he's interested in ) He will love this.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on September 29, 2016:

We keep on hearing about Nanotechnology but your well explained article helped me to understand more regarding this.

You have really done a fine job in this well researched hub. Very informative hub with helpful illustrations .

Thanks for the education!

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on September 29, 2016:

Jodah nanotechnology is amazing and it opens up new possibilities to improve and innovate materials and products.

John Hansen from Australia (Gondwana Land) on September 29, 2016:

Vellur, nanotechnology is incredible and this article really explained the intricacies and details. I understood very little about it, but this helps.

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