When you hear the word ‘nano’ what do you think about?  Most people immediately think of the iPod Nano or the Tata Nano car.  In fact, it seems like the word nano has become society’s buzz word for the latest and greatest of tiny electronic devices.  When scientists use the word nano, it means something different.  They are referring to something on the scale of atoms and molecules.  One nanometer is a billionth of a meter.  To give you an idea how tiny that is, a strand of your hair is between 80,000 and 100,000 nanometers thick.  Your fingernails grow one nanometer every second!  The field of research that studies things on this scale is called nanoscience.  Scientists are interested in using nanoscience to create new materials, build better computers, make targeted medications and manufacture more efficient solar panels.

There are typically two ways that scientists create new materials.  The first is to mimic nature.  For example, nasturtium plants have leaves that repel water because the leaves are covered by nano-sized hairs.  Researchers found that they could make synthetic versions of these tiny hairs and incorporate them into fabrics to make stain resistant pants and shirts.  The second way scientists can make new materials is by constructing them atom by atom.  It has been found that the behaviors of some substances change unexpectedly when you alter their molecular structure.  Gold is a great example.  When gold is a solid brick, it looks shiny and metallic, however when cut into nano-sized particles, it bends light differently and can look purple, green, or even red. Arizona Science Center has an amazing partnership with the Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network (NISEnet) whose goal is to raise public awareness of nanoscale science and technology The Center received a mini-grant from NISEnet to create a nano-themed podcast tour which links to exhibits on the museum floor. Podcasts are free and available online.  To take your nano-experience further, please visit NISEnet’s website.

This post was written by our very own Krystal Dillon our Senior Manager Guest Experience here at Arizona Science Center.

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