In its most basic meaning, nanoscience and nanotechnology (NST) refer to the study and building of structures (electronic, chemical, etc), devices and material systems at the nanometer scale. The prefix “nano” is derived from the Greek word νάνος, which means “dwarf”.
Specifically, nanoscience is the study of phenomena and manipulation of atomic, molecular and macromolecular scales, where properties differ greatly from those at a larger scale. Whereas nanotechnology refers to the design, characterization, production and application of structures, devices and systems by controlling shape and size at the nanometer scale. Despite these relatively clear definitions, NST’s are tied to a wide range of concepts due to the cross-cutting nature of this young discipline.
While birthing new possibilities, nanotechnologies are geniunely interdisciplinary, combining many disciplines such as optics, biology, mechanics and microtechnology. In fact, the main French NST website states that “scientists are not unanimous on the definition of nanoscience and nanotechnology.” Nanomaterials were found to be toxic when put in contact with human tissues and cell cultures. Nanotoxicology studies the environmental and sanitary risks related to nanomaterials. And the large scale dissemination of nanoparticules in the environment raises serious ethical questions.
Nanotechnologies receive billions of dollars in research and development. Europe has invested 1.3 billion euros between 2002 and 2006. Certain institutions claim that the global market will reach $1 trillion USD by 2015. (Wikipedia)
To learn more:
Interview conducted by the Newsteam Agency for the nanotechnology expo held at Cité des Sciences, May 18, 2007.
"De la Biologie Moléculaire à la Biotique : L’essor des bio-, info- et nanotechnologies"
Article published in a special edition of “Cellular and Molecular Biology”: Biotechnologies, Realities and Perspectives, vol 47, p.7-16, 2001.