What does nanotechnology mean?

It's a word you hear a lot, but what does it actually involved?
18 June 2019


Laboratory equipment and a scientist



What does nanotechnology mean?


Colm Durkan answered this question...

Colm - OK. Thanks Deirdre. So how long have you got?! Nanotechnology is, I'm gonna give you the formal definition and then tell you what that actually means because we scientists love complicated ways of saying really simple things. Basically nanotechnology is the ability to both make and characterise and use things that have nanometre dimensions. A nanometre is one billionth of a metre. And what happens is, the reason why nanotechnology exists as a field is that when you have any piece of material that's got those sorts of dimensions that you can measure in nanometres then its properties become different to larger bits of the same material. The simplest example, if you've ever looked at a stained glass window you'll see all these different colours in it and in many cases those colors are all made using the same material which is gold. Artists in medieval times did all sorts of experiments or they fiddled around with all sorts of chemicals because they had nice colours and they realised that just by changing the way in which they mixed certain chemicals together they could change the colour just by basically waiting for a little bit longer. And you know so for instance, gold when it's in nanoparticle form. So when it's a few nanometres across a lump of gold is no longer gold in colour it can be anywhere from green, red, blue, yellow. Take your pick. It’s purely down to its size and that’s just one example of about 100 that I could give you.

Chris - Ljiljana go for it.

Ljiljana - I wanted to ask you. You said that colours are changing. What else changes when you go the Nano. Like conductivity or something else?

Colm - Yes. Yes. So what we do in my lab is, so we first of all, we try to understand why the properties of materials change and then we make them do what we want and then we try and do something useful with it. So the sort of things that change are electrical properties if you take gold as an example it does so many things. It's a really good conductor of heat and electricity. If you make it small enough as a nanometre size then it can become an insulator. So you've got colour, chemical properties, change electrical properties change and so on.


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