Nanotechnology is concerned with science at the scale 1-100 nanometres – larger than atoms or molecules – but still very small objects. Things this small can have unusual properties, and the implications for using nanotechnology in everyday life are wide-ranging, from medicine, to computing, to sunscreens.

Curriculum Links

All Sciences

3. Specification content
• Appreciate the tentative nature of scientific knowledge.
• Communicate information and ideas in appropriate ways using appropriate terminology.
• Consider applications and implications of science and appreciate their associated benefits and risks.
• Appreciate the ways in which society uses science to inform decision making.

Biology 1.3 Biodiversity
b) Biodiversity refers to the variety and complexity of life and may be considered at different levels.
3.1 Knowledge of SI units
3.5 Waves
Qualitative treatment of polarisation and diffraction, path difference, phase and coherence, graphical treatment of superposition and standing waves
3.7 Quantum and nuclear physics
a) Photons: photon model to explain observable phenomena, evidence supporting the photon model
b) Particles: evidence supporting the quantum model for particles, a study of particle diffraction would provide suitable depth of treatment
Mathematical content for science subjects 8.2 Arithmetic and numerical computation
(a) Recognise and use expressions in decimal and standard form.
8.6 Geometry and trigonometry
a) Appreciate angles and shapes in regular 2D and 3D structures.
b) Visualise and represent 2D and 3D forms including two-dimensional representations of 3D objects.
c) Understand the symmetry of 2D and 3D shapes.


Scottish Curriculum

Chemistry Higher Potentially relevant to modules: Structure and research (different types of intermolecular force and their role in determining a material's physical properties). Chemistry in Society (principles of physical chemistry which allow a chemical process to be taken from the researcher's bench through to industrial production)

Why is nanotechnology important?

What is nanotechnology?

nanorobot_300Nanotechnology is a topic that spans a range of science and engineering disciplines. It takes place at on a tiny scale - larger than the level of atoms and molecules, but within the range of 1-100 nanometres.

The nanometre scale is about a billionth of a metre and things this small can behave quite weirdly. These unusual physical and chemical characteristics come about because there is an increase in surface area compared to volume as particles get smaller and also because they are subject to quantum effects. This means they can behave in different ways and do not follow the same laws of physics that larger objects do. For more information about quantum and particle physics see 'The best things come in small packages'.

The idea of nanotechnology first came from the physicist Richard Feynman (born in 1959) who imagined the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica could be written on the head of a pin. Carbon nanotubes - tiny tubes of carbon atoms, which are very strong yet very light - started to be created in the 1950s. It was improvements in microscopy in the 1980s that allowed researchers to see single atoms and then manipulate them on a surface. In 1985 chemists discovered how to create a football shaped molecule from 60 carbon atoms called buckminsterfullerene (also called fullerene, C60 or buckyballs - see 'Create a buckyball').

Why is it important?

The implications of nanotechnology are wide-ranging and could include medicine, military applications, computing and astronomy. Nanotechnology is being used already in certain materials like self-cleaning glass, sunscreens, lipsticks and even antibacterial socks!

Future applications for nanotechnology seem only to be limited by the creativity of researchers. Nanotechnology may be used to deliver drugs to just the right place inside the body.  There are even scientists who think that nanofoods could be used to trick the body into feeling fuller for longer, stopping us from overeating.

Nanotechnology is quite a new branch of science and engineering and there has been criticism from some groups who fear there may be risks to humans and the environment that we don't know about yet, for example tiny nanoparticles may be toxic under certain circumstances. A Royal Society news article from 2003 summarises some of these concerns.