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Welcome to the nanotechnology portal

Nanotechnology is the study of manipulating matter on an atomic and molecular scale. Generally, nanotechnology deals with developing materials, devices, or other structures possessing at least one dimension sized from 1 to 100 nanometers.

Nanotechnology is very diverse, including extensions of conventional device physics, new approaches based on molecular self-assembly, developing new materials with nanoscale dimensions, and investigating whether we can directly control matter on the atomic scale. Nanotechnology entails the application of fields as diverse as surface science, organic chemistry, molecular biology, semiconductor physics, microfabrication, etc.

There is much debate on the future implications of nanotechnology. Nanotechnology may be able to create many new materials and devices with a vast range of applications, such as in medicine, electronics, biomaterials and energy production. On the other hand, nanotechnology raises many of the same issues as any new technology, including concerns about the toxicity and environmental impact of nanomaterials, and their potential effects on global economics, as well as speculation about various doomsday scenarios.


A diagram illustrating near-field optics, with the diffraction of light coming from NSOM fiber probe, showing the wavelength of light as compared to the near-field region

Near-field scanning optical microscopy

Selected article

Near-field scanning optical microscopy (NSOM or SNOM) is a form of scanning probe microscopy that breaks the far field optical resolution limit by exploiting the properties of evanescent waves. This is done by placing the detector very close (distance much smaller than wavelength λ) to the specimen surface. This allows for the surface inspection with high spatial, spectral and temporal resolving power. With this technique, the resolution of the image is limited by the size of the detector aperture and not by the wavelength of the illuminating light. In particular, lateral resolution of 20 nm and vertical resolution of 2–5 nm have been demonstrated. As in optical microscopy, the contrast mechanism can be easily adapted to study different properties, such as refractive index, chemical structure and local stress. Dynamic properties can also be studied at a sub-wavelength scale using this technique.

Edward Hutchinson Synge, a scientist, is given credit for conceiving and developing the idea for an imaging instrument that would image by exciting and collecting diffraction in the near field in 1928. It was Ash and Nicholls who, in 1972, first broke the Abbe’s diffraction limit using radiation with wavelength of 3 cm. It was twelve more years before the first papers that used visible radiation for near field scanning were published by Pohl et al., and Lewis et al.


Quantum dot

Selected image

Energy transfer diagrammed from nano-thin layers of Sandia-grown quantum wells to the LANL nanocrystals (a.k.a. quantum dots) above the nanolayers.
Credit: Los Alamos National Laboratory

Energy transfer diagrammed from nano-thin layers of Sandia-grown quantum wells to the LANL nanocrystals (a.k.a. quantum dots) above the nanolayers.


Mihail Roco in 2008

Mihail Roco

Selected biography

Mihail Roco is the chair of the US National Science and Technology Council subcommittee on Nanoscale Science, Engineering and Technology (NSET), and is Senior Advisor for Nanotechnology at the National Science Foundation. He is noted for spearheading the formation of the National Nanotechnology Initiative, having formally proposed it to the Office of Science and Technology Policy during the Clinton administration in 1999, and was a key architect in its initial development.



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