Nanotecnology: a brief history of

A definition of what nanotechnologies or nanoscience are

“Nanoscience is the study of phenomena and manipulation of materials at atomic, molecular and macromolecular scales, where properties differ significantly from those at a larger scale” e “Nanotechnology is the design, characterisation, production and application of structures, devices and systems by controlling shape and size at nanometre scale".

The unprecedented opportunity offered by nanotechnology derives by the fact that nanotechnology represents a radically new way of manufacturing which exploits the peculiar properties of the matter at the nano scale and allows the production of materials, structures and devices with properties and functionalities greatly improved or totally new.

Two ways can be followed to go nano. One is the so called “top down” approach, i.e. reducing the dimensions to nanoscale with physical methods. Techniques commonly used in microelectronics, such as electron beam or X-ray lithography, can be associated to it. These techniques are readily available and in effect nanoelectronics and nanoengineering represent, at the moment, the area of application where nanotechnology is more diffused although, it must be said, that not always the nanometric size is enough to talk of “nanotechnology related products”. According to the restrictive definition given in the NNI, for example, the integrated circuits below 100 nm are not considered to belong to this category.

The other approach is dubbed as “bottom up”. It indicates the controlled assembling of molecules or molecular aggregates, used as building blocks, to produce nanostructures

The bottom up way is the one which can mostly be identified with nanotechnology and its potentialities and it mimics processes that often happen in nature to exploit the properties of the matter at nano scale. The highest expectations are placed on it.

The top down techniques are already quite well established while those associated with bottom up approach are still generally at development/research stage and essentially used at laboratory level.

umerous products linked to nanotechnology are already available on the market (Woodrow Wilson Nanotech Inventory) or close to it. Among them one can cite, for example, nanoparticles for cosmetics or for coatings and paints, technical textiles and clothing, sporting good, but, also, nanocomposites, “hard disks” with nanostructured surface for high density data storage, memory chips below 100 nm, photonic devices, self cleaning coatings, diagnostic systems for medical applications such as “lab-on-chip”. The number is increasing steadily.

On a longer time horizon, probably within the next 3-5 years, are expected, to name a few, new advanced drug delivery systems, medical prostheses with increased resistance and higher biocompatibility, innovative advanced materials for transportation, new and better systems for the production and storage of energy. The possibilities of application are literally endless.

The market related to nanotechnology is still relatively small and not easy to evaluate. It has been estimated that in 2006 it was around 60 US$ billion, but the expectations of growth are huge. According to some forecasts, this market is expected to reach a volume of more than 1000 US$ billion after 2015.

The prediction can look far fetched, but, because its pervasive character, nanotechnology can find application in practically all sectors. According a 2004 study of Lux Research, the areas that are seen to represent the largest market by 2015 are, in the order:

* Materials
* Electronics
* Pharmaceuticals
* Chemical processes
* Aerospace
* Health care
* Tools
* Sustainable processes

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