Nanoscale research refers to science, engineering, and technology at the level of atoms and molecules, with a length scale of 1 to 100 nanometers. A nanometer is one billionth of a meter. For perspective, a row of 10 hydrogen atoms would span about 1 nanometer, and the width of a human hair is about 50,000 to 150,000 nanometers.
The Nanoscale is the scale at which the fundamental properties of materials and systems are established. Melting temperature, magnetic properties, charge capacity, and even color are dictated by the arrangement of Nanoscale structures. The realm of molecular biology also operates largely at the Nanoscale.
Much is known about the physical properties and behavior of isolated molecules and bulk materials. The properties of matter at the Nanoscale, however, cannot necessarily be predicted from those observed at larger or smaller scales. Instead, they exhibit important differences that cannot be explained by traditional models and theories.
Some of these differences result from continuous modification of characteristics with changing size. Others represent totally new phenomena, such as quantum size confinement, wave-like transport, and the predominance of interfacial phenomena. Beginning at the molecular level, new chemical and physical properties emerge as cooperative interactions begin to dominate the behavior of Nanoscale molecular complexes. The ability to understand, design, and control these properties will lead to a whole new world of fundamental molecular assembles.
Research at the Nanoscale will provide both a fundamental understanding of the unique physical, chemical, and biological properties and phenomena that emerge at this length scale and ability to tailor these properties and phenomena to produce new materials and technologies. The potential benefits of Nanoscale research reach into electronics, biotechnology, medicine, transportation, agriculture, environment, national security, and other fields.
Realizing the promise of Nanoscale research, however, will require much more fundamental scientific knowledge and technological know-how. This includes a detailed understanding of the processes by which molecules organize and assemble themselves, the construction of quantum devices, and the operation of complex nanostructured systems. We also must find new ways to think about all aspects of materials and device fabrication. In the future, we will be building things from the bottom up as well as from the top down.