Nanotechnology involves the construction of functional materials at the molecular/atomic scale, and it overlaps a variety of disciplines including engineering, chemistry, physics and biology. To truly understand what nanotechnology is, means to look at matter (all things) on the mind-bogglingly small level of molecules which is measured in, you guessed it, nanometres. A nanometre is 10-9 metres or one billionth of a metre.

Did You Know?
Books like Isaac Asimov’s Fantastic Voyage and movies like Honey, I Shrunk the Kids have brought the shrink ray to the forefront of popular culture since the early 1900s. Even today you can see evidence of its fame by logging into World of WarCraft and engineering yourself a Gnomish Shrink Ray!

Nanotechnology works on the theory that individual molecules can be manipulated to alter their properties. It is a fairly young science that began in the 1980s, but by the year 2000, nanotechnology has been used to develop new electronic technologies such as carbon nanotubes and nanocrystal semiconductors, and invented the atomic force microscope, which allows us to see individual atoms.

Did You Know?
If a nanometre was the length of your nose, a human hair would be 3 miles thick, one of your fingers would easily cover Canada, and an average person would be the size of seven combined Earths!

Presently there are very few nanotechnological products employed outside of laboratories and with good reason! First, nanotechnology is still based mostly on theory and turning ideas into useful products requires a better understanding of physics and chemistry than we have today. Second, it can be very dangerous. Take ‘invisible’ sunscreens for example which contain engineered nanoparticles. Since its invention invisible sunscreen has been under scrutiny after researchers found evidence that nanoparticles can be absorbed by the body and cause serious health concerns.

Did You Know?
Traditional sunscreens contain either titanium oxide (TiO2) or zinc oxide (ZnO) in their formula. Both TiO2 and ZnO are large molecules that reflect light and, as a consequence, sunscreen containing either ingredient appears white. In the late 1990s, chemical engineers were able to devise TiO2 and ZnO nanoparticles — smaller TiO2 and ZnO molecules — that could block UV radiation without reflecting light. Thus invisible sunscreen was born, and today there are more than 300 different brands of these clear sunscreens available worldwide. In the future, scientists believe that nanotechnology will lead us to the development of quantum computers, new electronics, radical new disease treatments, body augmentation therapies (think super strength!) and more.

Learn More!

Nanotech applications:

- Solar power

- Regrowing bones

- Cancer diagnosis and treatment (video included)

- Art

- Military camouflage

Understanding the scale of the universe

Where is nanotech big?

Chris Langley

Chris is a graduate student at the University of Guelph where he studies molecular and cellular biology - more specifically the bioremediation of environments polluted by harmful pesticides and the detoxification of chemical warfare agents using bacterial proteins.  Chris obtained his undergraduate degree in microbiology and he's worked at Campbell's Soup Canada, in Toronto, developing new soups that are now on grocery store shelves (you might have tried some!).  Chris has also spent time at the National Research Council of Canada in Ottawa as an antibody engineer in search of a vaccine against the avian flu.  In his down time Chris likes to watch and read sci-fi movies and books, play piano/guitar, work on graphic design projects and write scientific articles for the general public.


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