The prefix nano- comes from the Greek nanos, which means dwarf. A single nanometer is one billionth of a meter. The terms nanotechnology and nanoscience are closely associated and are sometimes confused. Nanoscience specifically refers to the study of objects that are very tiny and are in the range of ten to hundreds of nanometers. Nanotechnology, on the other hand, is the actual manipulation, application, and use of nanometer-sized objects and matter to produce different phenomena, or for specific technologies and applications.
Nanoscale refers to anything that is in the particular size that is studied, or used for, nanotechnology and nanoscience. The naked eye cannot see nanoscale items, so specialized technology is used to study these tiny objects. It is very hard for most people to understand just how small a nanometer is. For reference, a sheet of standard notebook paper has a thickness of approximately 100,000 nanometers, which is .0039 inches (.009906 cm).
When something is reduced to nanoscale, its color, as well as the specific properties it normally has at a larger size, are often altered. Nanoscience studies these changes in an object and its new properties. Nanotechnology and nanoscience are interdisciplinary fields that combine physics, chemistry, and biology.
Universities, companies, and governments often study these fields because it is thought that the applications that may result from nanoscale study could alter every aspect of life. The possibilities are believed to be endless and there are many nanoscience programs throughout the world. Many universities now offer graduate degrees in nanoscience.
Humans have been unknowingly using nanotechnology and nanoscience for hundreds of years. The creation of steel swords, for example, could be said to be an example of applied nanotechnology. Steel is a mixture of several metals that are changed through at the atomic level through smelting.
It is believed that, by exploring nanoscience, findings can be applied in nanotechnology to make materials that are stronger, more durable, and lighter. These new materials may produce less waste and use less energy. Coatings may be applied to surfaces that render materials scratch and corrosion resistant.
Advances in nanotechnology and nanoscience could produce more efficacious methods of delivering drugs with fewer side effects, methods to purify air, and procedures that could repair damaged body tissues. Food storage has benefited a great deal from discoveries in nanoscience. For example, nanometer-sized deposits of clay in plastic containers create an impermeable barrier that gasses cannot cross, thereby better preserving foods. Also, silver particles on the nanoscale are often mixed into plastics because these have been found to inhibit the development of bacteria in storage containers.