Nanotechnology and Rice University
Before you can understand
nanotechnology, you must first understand nano. Nano, derived from the Greek word nanos meaning dwarf, is a prefix in the
SI measurement system meaning 10-9 or one billionth. Here are a few interesting metrics to put
nano in perspective …
- A DNA coil is 1
nanometer in diameter.
- If you were 1
nanometer tall, the earth would be the size of a green pea.
- A hummingbird
flaps its wings 50 times a second. Therefore
it takes 20,000,000 nanoseconds for a hummingbird to flap its wings once.
- There are one
billion nanoseconds in one second. There
are one billion seconds in 11,574 days (approximately 31 years 8 months 12
- A drop of water
is approximately 50,000 nanoliters.
- There are one
billion nanoliters in one liter (about one quart). One billion cans of soda would fill 120
Olympic size swimming pools.
- A grain of table
salt weighs approximately 50,000 nanograms.
- There are one
billion nanograms in one gram (about the weight of 1 paperclip). One billion $1 bills weigh 1,100 tons: that’s
the weight of 220 adult male Afican elephants.
Now that you have an idea of
nanoscale dimensions, nanotechnology is quite simply the application of
knowledge at the nanoscale. Here are
some more specific definitions …
- Merriam-Webster Dictionary – “The
art of manipulating materials on an atomic or molecular scale especially to
build microscopic devices.”
- Los Alamos National Laboratories
– “the creation of functional materials, devices, and systems through control
of matter on the nanometer (1 to 100+ nm) length scale and the exploitation of
novel properties and phenomena developed at that scale.”
- National Nanotechnology Initiative
– “Research and technology development at the atomic, molecular or
macromolecular levels, in the length scale of approximately 1 - 100 nanometer
range, to provide a fundamental understanding of phenomena and materials at the
nanoscale and to create and use structures, devices and systems that have novel
properties and functions because of their small and/or intermediate size. The
novel and differentiating properties and functions are developed at a critical
length scale of matter typically under 100 nm.”
No matter the definition, everyone
agrees that nanotechnology is a highly diverse and multidisciplinary scientific
field. For that reason, the Smalley
Institute at Rice University has an intellectually diverse membership including
151 faculty/staff members in 21 departments with over 500 graduate students
researching nanotechnology in a variety of sociological and scientific arenas
including energy, education, aerospace, ethics, and human health.
As the Smalley Institute matured
over the last 15 years, the vision of the Institute evolved into leading
the world in solving humanity’s most pressing problems through the application
of nanotechnology. As Professor Richard
E. Smalley so aptly put it, “Rice’s research reputation comes from solving the
hardest problems in science. Others can
work on the easy ones, the applied problems.
Focus on the grand challenges, the holy grails in nanotechnology. Don’t be distracted by the other
things!” Professor Smalley identified
the Top Ten Problems Facing Humanity
over the next 50 years as energy, water, food, environment, poverty, terrorism
& war, disease, education, democracy, and population.
The Smalley Institute currently
focuses on 5 Grand Challenges: energy, water, environment, disease, and
education. Rice University researchers endeavor
to impact each Grand Challenge through the application of nanotechnology which
we categorize into eleven Nanotechnology Disciplines.
in Biology, Health, and Medicine
Because of the multidisciplinary
nature of nanotechnology, many Smalley Institute researchers work in 3 or more
of these focus areas. We invite you to Learn
More about the specific Grand Challenges and Nanotechnology
Disciplines through the Smalley Institute website.