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Nanotechnology: A 21st Century Science and Engineering Revolution

The fabrication of useful products from chemicals has traditionally been based on using molecules, elements, and ionic species as the building blocks. Chemists and biochemists focused on discovering or synthesizing new chemical and biochemical compounds from which improved products could be made. Within the last thirty years it was discovered that assemblies with dimensions in the nanometer (nm) range have unique properties. A nanometer (nm) is about 10,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. Specifically, the term "nano" means "one thousandth of a millionth" (10-9) of a meter. These nanoscale assemblies of conventional chemicals and elements are being investigated both as unique devices and as components of products of conventional size. "Nanotechnology" has been defined as the field of study that involves the fabrication of materials and systems in the size domain of 1- 100 nm and the exploitation of the novel properties that result from limiting assemblies to this size domain.

Some of the excitement about nanotechnology is related to the ability to make and characterize devices in this size domain. However, the revolutionary aspect of the field is perhaps more related to the unique properties that are imparted to assemblies in the 1 - 100 nm range. Harnessing these properties is expected to impact every aspect of society. According to the U. S. Government, the nanotechnology revolution is expected to be greater than the 20th century combined influence of advances derived from silicon integrated circuitry, medical imaging methodology, computer-aided engineering, and polymer science. Like microprocessors that run our computers and appliances, products of nanotechnology will be ubiquitous. For example, applications will be found in commonplace items such as inks, dyes, protective coatings, building materials, and consumer electronics as well as in sophisticated systems such as energy production and storage, medical diagnostics, medications, and chemical and radiation sensors. Perhaps the most exciting applications are ones that we cannot anticipate today.

Nanotechnology research includes designing materials and organizing them on the nanometer scale. Not only must nanometer-scale materials be made but also they must be manipulated and assembled at nanometer distances in order to function.

While nanotechnology is considered a revolutionary field, nanoscale materials that were made fortuitously have contributed to science and art for a long time. Examples include glazes on ceramics of the Italian Renaissance, Persian, and Spanish-Moresque art from the 14th century on, stained glass (14th Century), photographic emulsions, and chemical catalysts. Indeed, advances in scientific instrumentation, which provides the ability to observe and characterize material at the nanoscale level, has led to the recognition that unique nanoscale assemblies influence the characteristic of many man-made materials and natural products.


Miami University has seven academic Department involved in nanotechnology research; Chemistry/Biochemistry, Physics, Microbiology, Geology, Paper/Chemical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Electrical/Computer Engineering. Undergraduates routinely perform research and produce peer-reviewed papers and national presentations.

Here are a few examples of undergraduate projects:

Carolyn Burns, Chemistry, investigated the role of salt content on the surface plasmon resonance of gold nanoparticles. Her work was presented at the Central Regional American Chemical Society meeting in Indianapolis in the summer of 2005 and is published Talanta: Burns, Carolyn A.; Ward, K.; Spendel, Wolgang U.; Pacey, Gilbert E., "Ionic Strength Effects on Gold Nanoparticle Surface Plasmon Resonance," Talanta, 2006, 69, 873-876.

Nano is HUGE at Miami University
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