Glossary


Atomic force microscope – A scientific instrument that can generate images of nanoscale details on a physical surface by scanning a tiny, flexible ceramic or semiconductor probe just above the surface—where it will be attracted or repelled slightly by features on the surface, and the deflection can be detected with the laser.

Atomic layer deposition (ALD) – A technique developed in the 1970s for depositing monolayers of material in a sequential, controlled manner using self-limiting reactions. It is used to make thin films.

Biomimetic – Engineered structures or devices that imitate biology in their functions or methods of manufacture.

Buckyball – A familiar, nontechnical synonym for fullerene.

Carbon nanotube (CNT) - Carbon molecule with a cylindrical shape. The structure and chemical bonds of CNTs result in unique strength, electrical, and thermal properties.

Colloid - Nanoscale or microscale particles suspended in another medium; colloids include gels, aerosols, and emulsions.

Converging technologies – Science at the intersection of nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, and cognitive technologies.

DNA – Deoxyribonucleic acid – the double-helix molecule that provides the basis of genetic heredity, about 2 nanometers in diameter but often several millimeters in length.

Dual use – Technologies that may be used for both military and civilian purposes.

Epitaxial film – A thin crystal layer, perhaps of nanoscale thickness, deposited on the surface of another substance by processes such as vapor deposition.

Fullerene – A category of roughly spherical carbon nanoscale structures named after Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic spheres.

Genome – A single set of chromosomes and their genes; the genetic code for a particular individual.

Genome sequence – The ordered set of base-pairs that constitute the genetic code in a particular sample of DNA or RNA.

Intellectual property – A right recognized in copyrights and patents that benefits the creator or current owner of a particular expression of an idea. Notably, our society grants intellectual property rights for technological inventions but not for scientific discoveries.

Molecular electronics – Electronic circuitry, including computer hardware, in which the separate components are individual molecules or small assemblages of molecules.  The hoped-for advantages include cost reduction, increased speed, higher bit density, reduced power requirements, and less waste heat.

Monolayer – A layer, film, or coating that is only one atom or molecule thick.

Moore’s Law – Proposed by Intel founder Gordon Moore in the 1960s, this is a variously stated observation that the density of transistors on an integrated circuit chip has been doubling every 18 to 24 months, or the cost of a transistor has been dropping by half, or that the general capabilities of microelectronics have been improving at an exponential rate.

Nanocrystals: also known as nanoscale semiconductor crystals. "Nanocrystals are aggregates of anywhere from a few hundred to tens of thousands of atoms that combine into a crystalline form of matter known as a "cluster." Typically around ten nanometers in diameter, nanocrystals are larger than molecules but smaller than bulk solids and therefore frequently exhibit physical and chemical properties somewhere in between. Given that a nanocrystal is virtually all surface and no interior, its properties can vary considerably as the crystal grows in size." (Credit: Berkeley Lab)

Nanocomposite – A material composed of two or more substances, of which at least one has a nanoscale dimension, such as nanoparticles dispersed throughout another solid material.

Nanofabrication – General terms for methods to create, assemble, or otherwise form nanoscale structures.

Nanofluidics – Science or engineering involving the flow of liquid or gas through nanoscale spaces.

Nanomanipulator – A tool for moving individual molecules or nanoscale objects, such as an atomic force microscope.

Nanometer – A distance unit representing one-billionth of a meter, or one-millionth of a millimeter, or roughly one-millionth the thickness of an American dime.

Nanoporous – Substances that have holes or pores on the nanoscale, used, for example, to separate particles or molecules by size.

Nanoscale – The size range roughly 1 to 100 nanometers, where many of the fundamental structures of biology are formed, composite materials may take on their distinctive characteristics, and many important physical phenomena are found.

Nanoscience – The study of unique properties of matter at the nanoscale; an interdisciplinary field of science combining physics, materials science, the chemistry of complex molecules, and related disciplines.

Nanosensor – A device for sensing radiation, forces, chemicals, or biological agents, in which some portion of a device operates at the nanoscale, for example, by having receptors into which the particular molecules to be sensed fit.

Nanotube – Hollow, cylindrical structures, with a diameter usually less than 5 nanometers. They are often but not necessarily, composed of carbon, and having remarkable strength and electrical properties.

Quantum dot – A nanoscale crystal with a diameter that is typically between 2-20 nm, having unique electrical and optical properties that are dependent on its size. They are finding commercial applications in new light sources, enhanced medical imaging, and being explored as compenents in spintronic quantum computers, and has a very wide range of potential scientific and industrial applications.

Photolithography – A fabrication technique that utilizes light to etch patterns onto silicon wafers using a mask and light-sensitive resin. It is often used for making integrated circuits.

Polymer – A chemical compound, typically formed by connecting smaller molecules together, that consists of repeating structures, often arranged in a chain.

Risk assessment – A set of analytic approaches in the decision, risk, and management sciences, typically considering both the probability and the potential cost of a particular type of event.

Scanning probe lithography – A technique in which an atomic force microscope or scanning tunneling microscope scratches, indents, or heats to produce nanoscale features on a surface.

Scanning tunneling microscope – A scientific instrument that can make images of nanoscale details on an electrically conductive surface by moving a sharp metal probe very close to that surface, passing a low-voltage electric current across it, and measuring tiny fluctuations in the current as the probe is scanned across the surface.

Self-assembly – A process in which a given nanostructure spontaneously constructs itself, generally limited to very specific structures in chemical environments precisely defined in order to promote self-assembly.

Toxicity – The extent to which a chemical substance is poisonous or, through chemical action, destroys living tissue.

Transistor – A solid-state electronic device based on a semiconductor material that regulates the flow of current between two of its electrodes and therefore is capable of amplifying a signal. Since its invention in 1948, the transistor has become constantly smaller (recently entering the nanoscale) and more efficient, serving as the basis of most electronic devices, including computers.

Vapor deposition – A chemical process commonly used in the semiconductor industry to apply thin films of one substance onto a surface composed of another substance.