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Overview: Nanotechnology is the science of studying and producing materials and devices of nanometer size, about the size of a small molecule or individual atom. Nanotechnology enables the development of future inventions across a vast array of fields. By 2015, the global impact of products where nanotechnology plays a key role is estimated to be approximately $1 trillion annually and will require a highly trained workforce of about two million. The emerging field of nanoscale science, engineering, and technology (nanotechnology for short) will no doubt lead to unprecedented understanding and control of the fundamental building blocks of all physical things. Potential applications are possible in agricultural production (plant and animal), food processing and manufacturing, human health and nutrition, biotechnology, medicine and drug delivery, information technology, homeland defense, energy production and efficiency, and environmental improvement.

Nanotechnologists work at atomic, molecular, or supramolecular levels in the length scale of approximately 1 to 100 nanometers (one nanometer equals one one-billionth of a meter). The physical, chemical, and biological properties of systems with structural features in this length scale exhibit important differences when compared to those of micro and macro scales.

Three key elements of nanotechnology are: (1) Matters at nanoscale exhibit novel physical and chemical phenomena, properties, and functions, which are not scalable outside of the nanometer domain. (2) Nanotechnology allows scientists to measure, control, and manipulate matter at the nanoscale to change those properties and functions. (3) It allows integration along length scales of nanomaterials for broad fields of applications by taking advantage of the unique properties of the nanomaterials.

Applications and Products: While nanotechnology is in the "pre-competitive" stage (meaning its applied use is limited), nanoparticles are being used in a number of industries. Nanoscale materials are used in electronic, magnetic and optoelectronic, biomedical, pharmaceutical, cosmetic, energy, catalytic and materials applications. Areas producing the greatest revenue for nanoparticles reportedly are chemical-mechanical polishing, magnetic recording tapes, sunscreens, automotive catalyst supports, biolabeling, electroconductive coatings and optical fibers. Today most computer hard drives contain giant magnetoresistance (GMR) heads that, through nano-thin layers of magnetic materials, allow for an order of magnitude increase in storage capacity. Other electronic applications include non-volatile magnetic memory, automotive sensors, landmine detectors and solid-state compasses. Nanomaterials, which can be purchased in dry powder form or in liquid dispersions, often are combined with other materials today to improve product functionality.

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