Nanotechnology is the application of science and engineering at the atomic scale. It facilitates the construction of new materials and devices by manipulating individual atoms and molecules, the building blocks of nature. Nanotechnology enables the atom-by-atom design and fabrication of tiny structures that are very small, typically 1-100 nanometres, and which have new properties and powerful application in medicine and biotechnology, in energy and the environment, and in computing and telecommunications.
Nanotechnology is an extension of the discoveries and applications of quantum mechanics, which last century led to a detailed understanding of matter on the atomic scale, and to innovations such as transistors, lasers, and molecular biology. Despite the knowledge of atoms and molecules gained from quantum theory, only in the past 15-20 years were techniques developed to directly image, characterize and deliberately manipulate individual atoms and molecules. It is these techniques and their application that have led to the recent rapid advances in nano-scale science and engineering.
Nanotechnology is in its early stages of development, and much remains to be discovered. Building new and useful devices out of a few atoms or molecules is technically challenging, and occupies many of today's pre-eminent scientists and engineers in the best laboratories throughout the world. Many of the principles of how matter functions and organizes on the nano-scale – the so-called 'design rules' – have yet to be developed. A major challenge is determining how to assemble different types of nano-sized particles and devices, such as bio-molecules, nano-scale motors, and nano-electronics, into more complex systems that do new and useful things. Another challenge is connecting these tiny systems to the outside world so they can be controlled, monitored and provide useful information. These challenges are the principal focus of research activities at the National Institute for Nanotechnology, and are outlined in the NINT Research Plan.
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