What the heck is Nanotech?

What the heck is Nanotech?

What do you think about when you hear the word “nano”?  Most people immediately think of an ipod nano or the latest “nano” toy.  In fact, it seems like the word “nano” has become society’s buzz word for the latest and greatest tiny (or not so tiny) electronic devices.  When scientists use the word “nano,” it means something different.  They are referring to something as small as DNA or viruses.  One nanometer is one billionth of a meter, so small it’s difficult to imagine.

Here are a few facts that will help you begin to understand how small a nanometer is:

  • The size of a nanometer compared to a meter is like the size of a marble compared to Earth.
  • A human hair is about 50,000 nanometers in diameter.
  • A sheet of paper is 100,000 nanometers thick.
  • Your fingernails grow a nanometer every second
Water droplets collecting dirt as they roll off a lotus leaf via Vidafine

Water droplets collecting dirt as they roll off a lotus leaf

But what is special about “nano”?

Nanotechnology research is leading to the creation of materials, processes, and technologies that many scientists believe will dramatically change our daily lives.

Scientists often mimic nature to create these new materials.  For example, lotus flowers have tiny “nano”-sized hairs on their leaves that help repel water. Scientists have found that they could recreate this “lotus effect” by creating synthetic versions of these tiny “nano” hairs and incorporating them into fabrics to make stain resistant pants and shirts. The “nano” hairs point outward, like peach fuzz, creating a layer of air next to the fabric. This cushioning layer keeps water and other liquids from soaking into the fabric. Water just beads up and rolls off the pants.

NanoDays at the Science Center

Get up close and personal with “nano”!

To see “nano” stain resistant pants and other amazing “nano” products in action, join us for NanoDays at the Science Center on Saturday March 30th from 10:00am – 3:00pm.

Written by Paul, Public Programs & Education
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