An aspect of nanotechnology is the vastly increased ratio of surface area to volume present in many nanoscale materials which makes possible new quantum mechanical effects, for example the “quantum size effect” where the electronic properties of solids are altered with great reductions in particle size. This effect does not come into play by going from macro to micro dimensions. However, it becomes pronounced when the nanometer size range is reached. A certain number of physical properties also alter with the change from macroscopic systems. Novel mechanical properties of nanomaterials is a subject of nanomechanics research. Catalytic activities also reveal new behaviour in the interaction with biomaterials.
Nanotechnology can be thought of as extensions of traditional disciplines towards the explicit consideration of these properties. Additionally, traditional disciplines can be re-interpreted as specific applications of nanotechnology. This dynamic reciprocation of ideas and concepts contributes to the modern understanding of the field. Broadly speaking, nanotechnology is the synthesis and application of ideas from science and engineering towards the understanding and production of novel materials and devices. These products generally make copious use of physical properties associated with small scales.
As mentioned above, materials reduced to the nanoscale can suddenly show very different properties compared to what they exhibit on a macroscale, enabling unique applications. For instance, opaque substances become transparent (copper); inert materials attain catalytic properties (platinum); stable materials turn combustible (aluminum); solids turn into liquids at room temperature (gold); insulators become conductors (silicon). Materials such as gold, which is chemically inert at normal scales, can serve as a potent chemical catalyst at nanoscales. Much of the fascination with nanotechnology stems from these unique quantum and surface phenomena that matter exhibits at the nanoscale.
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