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Nanotechnology Press Kit - Glossary

Last Updated: Monday, 20-Apr-2015 19:51:34 PDT Click here for our full Glossary.


[brackets] following definitions indicate author; author list at the bottom of the page.

Assembler: A general-purpose device for molecular manufacturing capable of guiding chemical reactions by positioning molecules. A molecular machine that can be programmed to build virtually any molecular structure or device from simpler chemical building blocks. Analogous to a computer-driven machine shop. [FS]

Atomic Force Microscope (AFM): An instrument able to image surfaces to molecular accuracy by mechanically probing their surface contours. A kind of proximal probe. .... A device in which the deflection of a sharp stylus mounted on a soft spring is monitored as the stylus is moved across a surface. If the deflection is kept constant by moving the surface up and down by measured increments, the result (under favorable conditions) is an atomic-resolution topographic map of the surface. Also termed a scanning force microscope. [FS]

Bottom Up: Building larger objects from smaller building blocks. Nanotechnology seeks to use atoms and molecules as those building blocks. The advantage of bottom-up design is that the covalent bonds holding together a single molecule are far stronger than the weak. [NTN] Mostly done by chemists, attempting to create structure by connecting molecules.

Bucky Balls (AKA: C60 molecules & buckminsterfullerene) - molecules made up of 60 carbon atoms arranged in a series of interlocking hexagonal shapes, forming a structure similar to a soccer ball. See our Nanotubes and Buckyball page.

Chemical Vapour Deposition (CVD): a technique used to deposit coatings, where chemicals are first vaporized, and then applied using an inert carrier gas such as nitrogen.

Convergent Assembly: "...rapidly make products whose size is measured in meters starting from building blocks whose size is measured in nanometers. It is based on the idea that smaller parts can be assembled into larger parts, larger parts can be assembled into still larger parts, and so forth. This process can be systematically repeated in a hierarchical fashion, creating an architecture able to span the size range from the molecular to the macroscopic." [Ralph C. Merkle]

Diamondoid: Stuctures that resemble diamond in a broad sense, strong stiff structures containing dense, three dimensional networks of covalent bonds, formed chiefly from first and second row atoms with a valence of three or more. Many of the most useful diamondoid structures will in fact be rich in tetrahedrally coordinated carbon. [NTN] Materials with superior strength to weight ratio, as much as 100 to 250 times as strong as Titanium, and much lighter. Possibly used to build stronger lighter rockets and space components, or a variety of other earth-bound articles for which weight and strength are a consideration.

Dry Nanotechnology: derives from surface science and physical chemistry, focuses on fabrication of structures in carbon (e.g. fullerenes and nanotubes), silicon, and other inorganic materials. Unlike the "wet" technology, "dry" techniques admit use of metals and semiconductors. The active conduction electrons of these materials make them too reactive to operate in a "wet" environment, but these same electrons provide the physical properties that make "dry" nanostructures promising as electronic, magnetic, and optical devices. Another objective is to develop "dry" structures that possess some of the same attributes of the self-assembly that the wet ones exhibit. [Rice University]

Exponential assembly: a manufacturing architecture starting with a single tiny robotic arm on a surface. This first robotic arm makes a second robotic arm on a facing surface by picking up miniature parts - carefully laid out in advance in exactly the right locations so the tiny robotic arm can find them - and assembling them. The two robotic arms then make two more robotic arms, one on each of the two facing surfaces. These four robotic arms, two on each surface, then make four more robotic arms. This process continues with the number of robotic arms steadily increasing in the pattern 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, etc. until some manufacturing limit is reached (both surfaces are completely covered with tiny robotic arms, for example). This is an exponential growth rate, hence the name exponential assembly. [ZY] See Exponential Assembly

Fullerenes: Fullerenes are a molecular form of pure carbon discovered in 1985. They are cage-like structures of carbon atoms, the most abundant form produced is buckminsterfullerene (C60), with 60 carbon atoms arranged in a spherical structure. There are larger fullerenes containing from 70 to 500 carbon atoms. [Wid] What are fullerenes? A very good explanation, even though some of the translation is a bit rough. See also What are fullerenes?

GNR technologies (Genetic Engineering, Nanotechnology, and Robotics)

Gray Goo or Grey Goo - Vast legions of destructive nanites, typically created by accident. Left unchecked, they will basically convert everthing they contact into more of themselves, or consume and digest it for energy. It's now considered unlikely to be a first-rank problem - see Drexler dubs “grey goo” fears obsolete.

Low-dimension Structures: quantum wells, quantum wire and quantum dots.

Mechanochemistry: Chemistry accomplished by mechanical systems directly controlling the reactant molecules; the formation or breaking of chemical bonds under direct mechanical control. See How does mechanochemistry work?

Mechanosynthesis: (where) molecular tools with chemically specific tip structures can be used, sequentially, to modify a work piece and build a wide range of molecular structures. [FS] See Technical Bibliography for Research on Positional Mechanosynthesis

Microelectromechanical Systems (MEMS): generic term to describe micron scale electrical/mechanical devices. [ZY] See The beauty of MEMS: Simpler, more reliable, cheaper, and cool for a description and examples of use.

Molecular Assembler: Also known as an assembler, a molecular assembler is a molecular machine that can build a molecular structure from its component building blocks. [ZY]

Molecular Manufacturing: The building of complex structures by mechanochemical processes. See Molecular Nanotechnology.

Molecular Nanotechnology (MNT): Thorough, inexpensive control of the structure of matter based on molecule-by-molecule control of products and byproducts; the products and processes of molecular manufacturing, including molecular machinery. [FS]

Moore's Law -- Coined in 1965 by Gordon Moore, future chairman and chief executive of Intel, it stated at the time that the number of transistors packed into an integrated circuit had doubled every year since the technology's inception four years earlier. In 1975 he revised this to every two years, and most people quote 18 months. The trend cannot continue indefinitely with current lithographic techniques, and a limit is seen in ten to fifteen years. However, the baton could be passed to nanoelectronics, to continue the trend (though the smoothness of the curve will very likely be disrupted if a completely new technology is introduced). [CMP]

Nanoelectromechanical Systems (NEMS): A generic term to describe nano scale electrical/mechanical devices. [ZY]

Nanoelectronics: Electronics on a nanometer scale, whether made by current techniques or nanotechnology; includes both molecular electronics and nanoscale devices resembling today's semiconductor devices. [NTN]

Nanoimprinting: Sometimes called soft lithography. A technique that is very simple in concept, and totally analogous to traditional mould- or form-based printing technology, but that uses moulds (masters) with nanoscale features. As with the printing press, the potential for mass production is clear. There are two forms of nanoimprinting, one that uses pressure to make indentations in the form of the mould on a surface, the other, more akin to the printing press, that relies on the application of "ink" applied to the mould to stamp a pattern on a surface. Other techniques such as etching may then follow. [CMP]

Nanomedicine: See Nanomedicine Glossary

Nanoscale: 1 - 100 nanometer range.

Nanotube: A one dimensional fullerene (a convex cage of atoms with only hexagonal and/or pentagonal faces) with a cylindrical shape. Carbon nanotubes discovered in 1991 by Sumio Iijima resemble rolled up graphite, although they can not really be made that way. Depending on the direction that the tubes appear to have been rolled (quantified by the 'chiral vector'), they are known to act as conductors or semiconductors. Nanotubes are a proving to be useful as molecular components for nanotechnology. [Encyclopedia Nanotech]

Nanometer (nm): one-billionth of a meter, and is derived from the Greek word for dwarf, "nano."

NBIC: Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Information Technology and Cognitive Science. See Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance

Positional Assembly: Constructing materials an atom or molecule at a time

Positional Devices: See "A New Family of Six Degree Of Freedom Positional Devices" by Ralph C. Merkle

Quantum Dots: nanometer-sized semiconductor crystals, or electrostatically confined electrons. Something (usually a semiconductor island) capable of confining a single electron, or a few, and in which the electrons occupy discrete energy states just as they would in an atom (quantum dots have been called "artificial atoms"). [CMP]

Scanning Force Microscope (SFM) An instrument able to image surfaces to molecular accuracy by mechanically probing their surface contours. A kind of proximal probe. .... A device in which the deflection of a sharp stylus mounted on a soft spring is monitored as the stylus is moved across a surface. If the deflection is kept constant by moving the surface up and down by measured increments, the result (under favorable conditions) is an atomic-resolution topographic map of the surface. Also termed an atomic force microscope. [FS]

Scanning Tunneling Microscope (STM): An instrument able to image conducting surfaces to atomic accuracy; has been used to pin molecules to a surface. [NTN]

Self-assembly: In chemical solutions, self-assembly (also called Brownian assembly) results from the random motion of molecules and the affinity of their binding sites for one another. Also refers to the joining of complementary surfaces in nanomolecular interaction. [ZY] See MITRE Nanosystems Research Task: Self-Assembly of Nanosystems and Microsystems

Wet Nanotechnology: the study of biological systems that exist primarily in a water environment. The functional nanometer-scale structures of interest here are genetic material, membranes, enzymes and other cellular components. The success of this nanotechnology is amply demonstrated by the existence of living organisms whose form, function, and evolution are governed by the interactions of nanometer-scale structures. [Rice University]

Key to Abbreviations for Original Authors

AS - Anders Sandberg
Bostrom - Dr. Nick Bostrom
BNL - Brookhaven National Laboratory Center for Functional Nanomaterials
CP - Chris Phoenix
CMP - CMP Científica
DCBE - Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering, Toyama University
FR - Fractal Robots
FS - Foresight Institute
KED - K. Eric Drexler
LBL - Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
MT - Materials Today
NTN - NanoApex
RCM - Ralph C. Merkle
Encyclopedia Nanotech - Steve Lenhert
Wid - Widener University
ZY - Zyvex

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