What is nanotechnology? 

Nanotechnology is the creation of materials, components, devices, and systems at the near-atomic, or nanometer, level. “Nano” means one-billionth.  Thus nanotechnology draws its name from the scale at which the technology operates—at nanometers, or 1/1,000,000,000 (one one billionth) of a meter.  This almost inconceivably small dimension is 100,000 times thinner than a strand of human hair.  Individual atoms, the fundamental building blocks of all matter, are of this size.  For example, the DNA molecule, the blueprint of life and the basis of the genome, is a twisted double-strand of molecules approximately two nanometers (2nm) across.  For more information about how small a nanometer is, see Size of the Nanoscale.  For more information about the tools used to work at such a small scale, see Working at the Nanoscale and UNC-Chapel Hill's nanoManipulator

Why is nanotechnology important?

Nanotechnology is creating a wealth of new materials and manufacturing possibilities, which in turn will profoundly impact our economy, our environment, and our society.  Using nanotechnology, researchers and manufacturers can fabricate materials literally molecule-by-molecule.  They can harness previously inaccessible properties of matter and “custom design” ultra-precise new structures, devices, and systems with new, unique, and often remarkable properties—such as materials with vastly increased strength, vastly decreased weight, vastly greater electrical connectivity, or the ability to change shape or color on demand. For an idea of the novel properties and uses of nanotechnology, see Nanoscience Discoveries and nanotechnology in North Carolina's companies and universities.

What are nanotechnology’s prospects?

Nanotechnology is already enhancing everyday products such as sunscreens, golf clubs, clothing, and cell phones.  Within the next decade, it will be commonplace in drug therapies, water filters, fuel cells, power lines, computers, and a wide range of other applications.  Widespread commercial adoption of nanotechnology is growing rapidly.  Examples of areas in which nanotechnology is expected to have a high commercial impact include:

Near-term (1-5 years)
  • Long-lasting rechargeable batteries
  • Improved chemical & biological sensors
  • Point-of-care medical diagnostic devices 
Mid-term (5-10 years)
  • New targeted drug therapies 
  • Enhanced medical imaging 
  • High-efficiency, cost-effective solar cells
Long-term (20+ years)
  • New molecular electronics
  • New all-optical information processing 
  • New neural prosthetics for health care
For more information about the uses of nanotechnology, see Nanotechnology Consumer Products Inventory and nanotechnology in North Carolina companies.

Investing in North Carolina’s Future

North Carolina citizens can benefit not only from these new products, but also from the economic growth and new jobs brought on by new and enhanced businesses and industries using nanotechnology.  Across the globe, governments and corporations are working to unlock the potential of nanotechnology.  In the U.S., the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) is the highest priority funded science and technology effort since the space race and is one of the President’s highest multi-agency research and development priorities.

Over the coming decades, North Carolina can create more new, high-wage jobs for its citizens from the effective use of science and technology-based economic development policy than from any other source.  Nanotechnology is vital to building and sustaining North Carolina’s reputation as a frontrunner in science and technology.  For more information about how to advance successful nanotechnology-based economic development and high-wage employment throughout North Carolina, see:

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