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Nanotechnology is a powerful new technology for taking apart and reconstructing nature at the atomic and molecular level. Nanotechnology embodies the dream that scientists can remake the world from the atom up, using atomic level manipulation to transform and construct a wide range of new materials, devices, living organisms and technological systems.
Nanotechnology and nanoscience involve the study of phenomena and materials, and the manipulation of structures, devices and systems that exist at the nanoscale, <100 nanometres (nm) in size. To put 100nm in context: a strand of DNA is 2.5nm wide, a protein molecule is 5nm, a red blood cell 7,000 nm and a human hair is 80, 000 nm wide.
The properties of nanoparticles are not governed by the same physical laws as larger particles, but by quantum mechanics. The physical and chemical properties of nanoparticles – for example, colour, solubility, strength, chemical reactivity and toxicity – can therefore be quite different from those of larger particles of the same substance.
The altered properties of nanoparticles have created the possibility for many new profitable products and applications. Engineered nanoparticles are used in literally hundreds of products that are already available on supermarket shelves – including transparent sunscreens, light-diffracting cosmetics, penetration enhanced moisturisers, stain and odour repellent fabrics, dirt repellent coatings, long lasting paints and furniture varnishes, and even some food products.
The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Centre for Technology Foresight has predicted that nanotechnology will revolutionise all aspects of our economy and all aspects of society, with associated large-scale social upheaval.