Nanotechnology materials are building objects between 1 and 100 nanometers, with a single nanometer equaling one-billionth of a meter. In essence, all materials found in nature are constructed at the nanoscale, but objects manipulated by humans at the molecular level to build something new constitute nanotechnology materials. The best early example of this technology is a carbon nanotube, made by changing the dimensions of carbon molecules into a honeycomb lattice. Carbon nanotubes create a graphite sheet that is significantly lighter and stronger than steel. Products such as bike frames, batteries, and tennis rackets are examples of what can be made out carbon nanotubes.
A common example of nanotechnology materials is titanium dioxode, which is manipulated to create products such as sunscreen that blocks ultraviolet (UV) rays while still allowing for a tan. Another important product from titanium dioxide is a solar panel that intensifies the energy received from sunlight, making for a more efficient and powerful energy source. Researchers have found that zinc oxide is another example of nanotechnology materials with similar advantages to titanium oxide, including the ability to block UV rays and intensify the effects of light capture in solar panels.
Both silver and gold particles are powerful nanotechnology materials, offering new solutions in a wide variety of industries. Silver nanoparticles, for instance, have been trumpeted as the solution for everything from better toothpaste to a possible cure for infectious diseases. Gold nanoparticles also have potentially important medical applications, from detecting cancer at early stages to curing arthritis. Both silver and gold nanoparticles can be used for electronic wiring, which provides greater flexibility and power than traditional methods.
Many nanotechnology materials come from more common sources as well. Clay particles manipulated at the nano level create a stronger polymer that is also lighter and more resilient to temperatures. Generally, clay-based polymers can be used in clothing, household items, and car parts. The building industry is researching ways to improve common items such as cement and glass to create new materials that are more energy-efficient, easier to produce, and more environmentally sustainable.
Many nanotechnology materials have been controversial. Manipulating materials at the molecular level leads to the possibility of toxicity of both the materials themselves and the byproduct. Other concerns are energy consumption in creating the materials and the fact that they have yet to prove they hold up in time. Despite this, nanotechnology materials are being developed because of the promise of greater innovation for electronics, textiles, manufacturing, and their potentially revolutionary effect on medicine.