The Big Ideas of Nanoscience

Size and Scale Factors relating to size and geometry (i.g. size, scale, shape, proportionality, and dimensionality) help describe matter and predict its behavior.

Structure of Matter Materials consist of building blocks that often form a hierarchy of structures.  Atoms interact with each other to form molecules.  The next higher level of organization involves atoms, molecules, or nanoscale structures interacting with each other to form nanoscale assemblies and structures.

Forces and Interactions All interactions can be described by multiple types of forces, but the relative impact of each type of force changes with scale.  On the nanoscale, a range of electrical forces with varying strengths tends to dominate the interactions between objects.

Quantum Effects Different models explain and predict the behavior of matter better, depending on the scale and conditions of the system, in particular, as the size or mass of an object becomes smaller and transitions through the nanoscale, quantum effects become more important.

  • All matter exhibits both wave and particle-like characters.
  • Only discrete amounts, quanta, of energy may enter or exit certain systems.
  • Because of the wave-particle duality, we cannot predict exactly what did or will happen to matter at certain scales.  Instead, probabilities are measured.
  • Pauli exclusion principle- two electrons cannot be in the exact same quantum state within the same system (atom).

Size-Dependent Properties The properties of matter can change with scale.  During the transition from bulk material to the nanoscale, a material often exhibits unexpected properties that lead to new functionality.
Self-Assembly- Under specific conditions, some materials can spontaneously assemble into organized structures.  This process provides a useful means for manipulating matter at the nanoscale.

Tools and Instrumentation Recent development of specialized tools has led to new levels of understanding of matter by helping scientists detect, manipulate, isolate, measure, fabricate, and investigate nanoscale matter with unprecedented precision and accuracy.

Models and Simulations The extremely small size and complexity of nanoscale targets make models and simulations useful for the study and design of nanoscale phenomena. They can help scientists visualize, explain, predict, and hypothesize about the structures, properties, and behaviors of matter at the nanoscale.

Science, Technology, and Society The advancement of science involves developing explanations for how and why things work and using technology to apply that knowledge to meet objectives, solve problems, and answer questions of societal interest.