Nanotechnology is helping to revolutionize many technology and industry sectors, including materials science,
renewable energy, biomedical technology, 3D printing and robotics manufacturing. At its most basic, nanotech relies
on tailoring the structure of materials at an atomic or molecular scale, to achieve specific properties. Using
nanotechnology, new materials can be fabricated that are stronger, lighter, and better electrical conductors, among
When particle sizes of solid matter in the visible scale are compared to what can be seen in a regular optical
microscope, there is little difference in the properties of the particles. But when particles are created with
dimensions of about 1–100 nanometers, the materials’ properties change significantly from those at larger scales.
This is the size scale where quantum effects rule behavior and physical properties. Thus, when particle size is made
to be nanoscale, properties such as melting point, fluorescence, electrical conductivity, magnetic permeability, and
chemical reactivity change as a function of the size of the particle.
• Nanoscale additives in polymer composite materials for baseball bats, tennis rackets, motorcycle helmets,
automobile bumpers, luggage, and power tool housings can make them simultaneously lightweight, stiff, durable, and
Nanotechnology is already in use in many computing, communications, and other electronics applications to provide
faster, smaller, and more portable systems that can manage and store larger and larger amounts of information. These
continuously evolving applications include nanoscale transistors that are faster, more powerful, and increasingly
energy-efficient. Magnetic random access memory (MRAM) enabled by nanometer-scale magnetic tunnel junctions can
quickly and effectively save even encrypted data during a system shutdown or crash. Displays for many new TVs, laptop
computers, cell phones, and digital cameras incorporate nanostructured polymer films known as organic light-emitting
diodes (OLED displays). Other uses include Flash memory chips for iPod nanos, ultraresponsive hearing aids, and
antibacterial coatings on computer keyboards.
• Nanoscale additives to or surface treatments of fabrics help them resist wrinkling, staining, and bacterial growth,
and provide lightweight ballistic energy deflection in personal body armor.
• Nanoscale thin films on eyeglasses, computer and camera displays, windows, and other surfaces can make them water-
repellent, antireflective, self-cleaning, resistant to ultraviolet or infrared light, antifog, antimicrobial,
scratch-resistant, or electrically conductive.
• Nano-engineered materials in the food industry include nanocomposites in food containers to minimize carbon dioxide
leakage out of carbonated beverages, or reduce oxygen inflow, moisture outflow, or the growth of bacteria in order to
keep food fresher and safer, longer.
• Nanosensors built into plastic packaging can warn against spoiled food. Nanosensors are being developed to detect
salmonella, pesticides, and other contaminates on food before packaging and distribution.
• Nano-engineered materials in automotive products include high-power rechargeable battery systems; thermoelectric
materials for temperature control; lower-rolling-resistance tires; high-efficiency/low-cost sensors and electronics;
thin-film smart solar panels; and fuel additives and improved catalytic converters for cleaner exhaust and extended
• Nano-engineered materials make superior household products such as degreasers and stain removers; environmental
sensors, alert systems, air purifiers and filters; antibacterial cleansers; and specialized paints and sealing
• Nanostructured ceramic coatings exhibit much greater toughness than conventional wear-resistant coatings for
machine parts. Such coatings can extend the lifetimes of moving parts in everything from power tools to industrial
Medical, and Health Applications
Over time, nature has perfected the art of biology at the nanoscale. Many of the inner workings of cells naturally
occur at the nanoscale. For example, hemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen through the body, is 5.5 nanometers
in diameter. A strand of DNA, one of the building blocks of human life, is about 2 nanometers in diameter. Medical
nanotechnology has the real potential to revolutionize a wide array of medical and biotechnology tools and procedures
so that they are more personalized, portable, cheaper, safer, and easier to administer.
For example, quantum dots are semiconducting nanocrystals that can enhance biological imaging for medical
diagnostics. When illuminated with ultraviolet light, they emit a wide spectrum of bright colors that can be used to
locate and identify specific kinds of cells and biological activities. These crystals offer optical detection up to
1,000 times better than conventional dyes used in many biological tests, such as MRIs, and render significantly more
• Gold nanoparticles can be used to detect early-stage Alzheimer’s disease.
Nanoparticles will someday be used to clean industrial water pollutants in ground water through chemical reactions
that render them harmless, at much lower cost than methods that require pumping the water out of the ground for
treatment. Many airplane cabin and other types of air filters are nanotechnology-based filters that allow mechanical
filtration, in which the fiber material creates nanoscale pores that trap particles larger than the size of the
pores. They also may contain charcoal layers that remove odors. Almost 80% of the cars sold in the U.S. include
built-in nanotechnology-based filters.
• Molecular imaging for the early detection where sensitive biosensors constructed of nanoscale components such as
nanocantilevers, nanowires, and nanochannels can recognize genetic and molecular events.
• Multifunctional therapeutics where a nanoparticle serves as a platform to facilitate its specific targeting to
cancer cells and delivery of a potent treatment, minimizing the risk to normal tissues.
• Research enablers such as microfluidic chip-based nanolabs capable of monitoring and manipulating individual cells
and nanoscale probes to track the movements of cells and individual molecules as they move about in their
• Nanotechnology may also spur the growth of nerve cells. In one method, a nanostuctured gel fills the space between
existing cells and encourages new cells to grow. Another method is exploring use of nanofibers to regenerate damaged
spinal nerves in mice.
• Nanostructured filters that can remove virus cells from water.
• Deionization method using nano-sized fiber electrodes to reduce the cost and energy requirements of removing salts
The difficulty of meeting the world’s energy demand is compounded by the growing need to protect our environment.
Many scientists are looking into ways to develop clean, affordable, and renewable energy sources, along with means to
reduce energy consumption and lessen toxicity burdens on the environment.
• Prototype solar panels incorporating nanotechnology are more efficient than standard designs in converting sunlight
to electricity, promising inexpensive solar power in the future. Nanostructured solar cells are cheaper to
manufacture and easier to install. Future solar energy converters might even be able to be painted on
• Nanotechnology is improving the efficiency of fuel production from normal and low-grade raw petroleum materials
through better catalysis, as well as fuel consumption efficiency in vehicles and power plants through higher-
efficiency combustion and decreased friction.
• Nanotechnology is used in numerous new kinds of batteries that are less flammable, quicker-charging, more
efficient, lighter weight, and that have a higher power density and hold electrical charge longer. One new lithium-
ion battery type uses a common, nontoxic virus in production processes.
• Nanostructured materials are being pursued to greatly improve hydrogen membrane and storage materials and the
catalysts needed to realize fuel cells for alternative transportation technologies at reduced cost. Researchers are
also working to develop a safe, lightweight hydrogen fuel tank.
• An epoxy containing carbon nanotubes is being used to make windmill blades that are longer, stronger, and lighter-
weight than other blades to increase the amount of electricity that windmills can generate.
• Researchers are developing wires containing carbon nanotubes to have much lower resistance than the high-tension
wires currently used in the electric grid and thus reduce transmission power loss.
Currently, people design materials based on a material's existing chemistry, structure and its corresponding
properties. A new vision for material design instead looks first at the desired properties you are targeting for a
product application and then applies proprietary design methods to optimize the structure and its internal geometry.
Applications could range from the aerospace industry, which would take advantage of the high strength and low weight
of the nanoengineered materials, to fields that would take advantage of the materials' porosity, such as water
desalination or gas filtration.
Manufacturing at the nanoscale is known as nanomanufacturing. Nanomanufacturing involves scaled-up, reliable, and
cost-effective manufacturing of nanoscale materials, structures, devices, and systems. It also includes research,
development, and integration of top-down processes and increasingly complex bottom-up or self-assembly processes.
• Chemical vapor deposition is a process in which chemicals react to produce very pure, high-performance
• Molecular beam epitaxy is one method for depositing highly controlled thin films.
• Atomic layer epitaxy is a process for depositing one-atom-thick layers on a surface.
• Dip pen lithography is a process in which the tip of an atomic force microscope is dipped into a chemical fluid and
then used to write on a surface, like an old fashioned ink pen onto paper.
• Nanoimprint lithography is a process for creating nanoscale features by "stamping" or "printing" them onto a
• Roll-to-roll processing is a high-volume process to produce nanoscale devices on a roll of ultrathin plastic or
• Self-assembly describes the process in which a group of components come together to form an ordered structure
without outside direction.
Whether in construction, aerospace or electronics, picking the right material for the job involves choosing the best
fit among a limited number of options, which often leads to compromises between material strength and weight. Rather
than creating entirely new materials, Professor Rashid Abu Al-Rub and his team at the Masdar Institute in the United
Arab Emirates, focused on changing the internal geometric structure of familiar plastics, metals, ceramics and
composites. Tweaking materials from the ground up allowed the scientists to control their mechanical, thermal and
electrical properties in unique ways.
Density and strength, for instance, usually go hand in hand. Strong materials like metals and alloys tend to be
heavy, while foams and other lightweight composites are normally much weaker. Changing the molecular structure can
lead to materials that are both strong and light at the same time by being airy rather than solid, and by deriving
their strength from complex shapes. This is the same principle that gives the Eiffel Tower structural strength
through the arrangement of its metal struts.
Professor Abu Al-Rub and his engineering design team built a computer model that can generate thousands of geometric
arrangements for a given material. Each design gives rise to a different set of thermal, electrical and mechanical
properties solely through implementing a different geometry. More importantly, the model can be directed to find the
arrangement that maximizes certain properties to fit a desired application.
The structures are very complex, so they couldn't be produced through conventional manufacturing methods. Luckily,
however, recent 3D printing advances have made it possible to 3D print these structures even though their features
might be only a few nanometers in size. According to their research, the combined ability to design custom properties
into a material and then manufacture it through 3D printing could disrupt the future of material design.
Engineering & Computer Jobs
The Fundamentals of Engineering exam should be taken immediately after earning a bachelors degree from an ABET-accredited program. Engineers who pass this exam are called engineers in training (EIT), or engineer interns. After meeting work experience requirements, engineer interns can attempt a second certifying exam, called the Principles and Practice of Engineering Exam. Thereafter, acquisition of a professional engineering license enables management of junior engineers, the ability to sign off on engineering projects, and provide services directly to the public.
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