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Institute of Nanotechnology - Glossary of Terms
Category: General technical and industrial > Nanotechnology
Date & country: 11/12/2007, UK
Words: 154

A particular right-handed helical form of DNA (possessing 11 base pairs per turn) which is the form that DNA molecules exist in when they are partially dehydrated. A-form DNA is found in fibres at 75% relative humidity and requires the presence of sodium, potassium or cesium as the counterion. Instead of lying flat, the bases are tilted with respec…

Adsorption is a process that occurs when a gas or liquid solute accumulates on the surface of a solid or, more rarely, a liquid (adsorbent), forming a molecular or atomic film (the adsorbate). It is different from absorption, in which a substance diffuses into a liquid or solid to form a solution. The term sorption encompasses both processes, while…

An ion consists of one or more atoms and carries a unit charge of electricity. Those that are negative ions (hydroxyl and acidic atoms or groups) are called anions (cf. cation).

A general-purpose device for molecular manufacturing, capable of guiding chemical reactions by positioning molecules.

The smallest unit of a chemical element, about a third of a nanometer in diameter. Atoms make up molecules and solid objects.

A unit of pressure equal to one million (106) dynes, equivalent to 10 newtons, per square centimetre. This is approximately the pressure exerted by Earth's atmosphere at sea level.

Miniaturization engineering or MEMS applied to biotechnology or medicine. In BioMEMS the number of materials involved is much larger than in a comparable electronics application. Both instruments and sensors are used in BioMEMS. Applications include: Forensic science (e.g. O.J.s DNA); Clinical diagnostics (e.g. glucose in blood); Product developmen…

Imitating, copying, or learning from nature.

The design of systems, materials, and their functionality to mimic nature. Current examples include layering of materials to achieve the hardness of an abalone shell or understanding why spider silk is stronger than steel.

bottom up
Building organic and inorganic structures atom-by-atom, or molecule-by-molecule.

Brownian Assembly
Brownian motion in a fluid brings molecules together in various position and orientations. If molecules have suitable complementary surfaces, they can bind, assembling to form a specific structure. Brownian assembly is a less paradoxical name for self-assembly.

Brownian Motion
Motion of a particle in a fluid owing to thermal agitation

A sphere of sixty carbon atoms, also called a buckyball. Named after the architect Buckminster Fuller, who is famous for the geodesic dome that buckyballs resemble.

A popular name for Buckminsterfullerene.

Carbon Black
Carbon black is a powdered form of elemental carbon. The primary use of carbon black is in rubber products, mainly tyres and other automotive products, but also in many other rubber products such as hoses, gaskets and coated fabrics. Much smaller amounts of carbon black are used in inks and paints, plastics and in the manufacture of dry-cell batter…

A substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction by reducing the activation energy, but which is left unchanged by the reaction. A catalyst works by providing a convenient surface for the reaction to occur. The reacting particles gather on the catalyst surface and either collide more frequently with each other or more of the collisions re…

Two or more interlocking rings.

An ion consists of one or more atoms and carries a unit charge of electricity. Those that are positively electrified (hydrogen and the metals) are called cations (cf. anion).

A small structural unit, surrounded by a membrane, making up living things.

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.

The characteristic of a structure (usually a molecule) that makes it impossible to superimpose it on its mirror image.

The physical method of separation in which the components to be separated are distributed between two phases, one of which is stationary while the other moves in a definite direction. Chromatography is a widely used for the separation, identification, and determination of the chemical components in complex mixtures.

Coordinate Measuring Machine

A mixture in which one substance is divided into minute particles (called colloidal particles) and dispersed throughout a second substance. The mixture is also called a colloidal system, colloidal solution, or colloidal dispersion. Colloid science is the study of systems involving small particles of one substance suspended in another. Suspensions i…

Combinations of metals, ceramics, polymers, and biological materials that allow multi-functional behaviour. One common practice is reinforcing polymers or ceramics with ceramic fibres to increase strength while retaining light weight and avoiding the brittleness of the monolithic ceramic. Materials used in the body often combine biological and stru…

Cathode Ray Tube

A dendrimer is an artificially manufactured or synthesized molecule built up from branched units called monomers. Such processes involve working on the scale of nanometers. Technically, a dendrimer is a polymer, which is a large molecule comprised of many smaller ones linked together.

A diode is a specialized electronic component with two electrodes called the anode and the cathode. Most diodes are made with semiconductor materials such as silicon, germanium, or selenium. Diodes can be used as rectifiers, signal limiters, voltage regulators, switches, signal modulators, signal mixers, signal demodulators, and oscillators.

Dip Pen Nanolithography
A direct-write soft lithography technique that is used to create nanostructures on a substrate of interest by delivering collections of molecules via capillary transport from an AFM tip to a surface.

DeoxyriboNucleic Acid. DNA is a code used within cells to form proteins.

DNA Chip
A purpose built microchip used to identify mutations or alterations in a gene's DNA.

Dry Nanotechnology
Derives from surface science and physical chemistry, focuses on fabrication of structures in carbon 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 …

Differential Scanning Calorimeter

ExtraCellular Matrix

Elastomeric stamp or mould
Key element in soft lithography usually made from polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), having patterned relief structures on its surface.

Cross-linked high-polymer materials with elastic behaviour.

Electro Scanning Microscope (ESM)
Used for the study of surface morphology and the determination of the thickness of MBE grown films.

Creation of a 3D design or image on paper or other material.

Molecular machines found in nature made of protein, which can catalyse (speed up) chemical reactions.

Electro Scanning Microscope

ExtraCellular Matrix (ECM)
A complex structural entity surrounding and supporting cells that are found within mammalian tissues. The ECM is often referred to as the connective tissue. The ECM is composed of three major classes of biomolecules: structural proteins (collagen and elastin) specialized proteins (e.g. fibrillin, fibronectin, and laminin); and proteoglycans: (compo…

Filtered Cathodic Vacuum Arc

Fourier Transfer Infra Red

A Fullerene is a pure carbon molecule composed of at least 60 atoms of carbon. They are cage-like structures of carbon atoms; the most abundant form produced is Buckminster-fullerene (C60), with sixty carbon atoms arranged in a spherical structure. Because a Fullerene takes a shape similar to a soccer ball or a geodesic dome, it is sometimes referr…

Billions of bits per second. A measure of bandwidth on a digital data transmission medium such as optical fibre.

The study of the full complement of genes that make up an organism.

Homochirality is a term used to refer to a group of molecules that possess the same sense of chirality. (The term chiral is used to describe an object which is non-superimposable on its mirror image. In terms of chemistry, these objects are usually molecules.) Molecules involved are not necessarily the same compound, but similar groups are arranged…

High Resolution Transmission Electron Microscopy

An organic compound that contains only carbon and hydrogen; classified, according to the arrangement of the atoms and the chemical properties of the compounds, as alicyclic, aliphatic, and aromatic; derived mostly from crude petroleum and also from coal tar and plant sources.

An atom or group of atoms in which the number of electrons is different from the number of protons. If the number of electrons is less than the number of protons, the particle is a positive ion, also called a cation. If the number of electrons is greater than the number of protons, the particle is a negative ion, also called an anion.

The name of a nanofabrication technique used to create ultrathin films (monolayers and isolated molecular layers), the end result of which is called a Langmuir-Blodgett film.

LCD (Liquid Crystal Display)
Technology used for displays in notebook and other smaller computers. LCDs allow displays to be much thinner than cathode ray tube technology. LCDs consume much less power because they work on the principle of blocking light rather than emitting it.

LED (Light Emitting Diode)
A semiconductor device that emits visible light when an electric current passes through it. The light is not particularly bright, but in most LEDs it is monochromatic, occurring at a single wavelength. The output from an LED can range from red (at a wavelength of ~700nm) to blue-violet (~400nm).

An ion, a molecule, or a molecular group that binds to another chemical entity to form a larger complex.

Lipids are fatty acids and their derivatives, and substances related biosynthetically or functionally to these compounds.

Lithium Ion (Li-Ion) battery
A rechargeable battery with twice the energy capacity of a Nickel-Cadmium battery and greater stability and safety.


A complex large molecule formed from simpler molecules, usually with a diameter ranging from about 100-10 000 angstroms (10-5 to 10-3 mm).

Substance within which something else originates, develops, or is contained.

Molecular Beam Epitaxy

The study of the melding of AI and electromechanical machines to make machines that are greater than the sum of their parts.

In biology a thin, pliable layer of tissue covering surfaces or separating or connecting regions, structures, or organs of an animal or a plant. In chemistry a membrane is a thin sheet of natural or synthetic material that can be penetrated, especially by liquids or gases. In environmental applications of nanotechnology a membrane can be used as a …

MicroElectroMechanical Systems

Mesoporous materials are porous materials with regularly arranged, uniform mesopores (2-50nm in diameter). Their large surface areas make them useful as adsorbents or catalysts.

Individually encapsulated small particles.

The science of designing, manufacturing, and formulating devices and processes that deal with volumes of fluid on the order of nanolitres (symbolized nl and representing units of 10-9 litre) or picoliters (symbolized pl and representing units of 10-12 litre).

In organic chemistry, functional groups (or moieties) are specific groups of atoms within molecules, that are responsible for the characteristic chemical reactions of those molecules. The same functional group will undergo the same or similar chemical reaction(s) regardless of the size of the molecule it is a part of.

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.

Molecular Beam Epitaxy (MBE)
Process used to make compound (multi-layer) semiconductors. Consists of depositing alternating layers of materials, layer by layer, one type after another (such as the semiconductors gallium arsenide and aluminium gallium arsenide).

Molecular Electronics
Any system with atomically precise electronic devices of nanometre dimensions, especially if made of discrete molecular parts rather than the continuous materials found in today's semiconductor devices.

Molecular Wire
A quasi-one-dimensional molecule that can transport charge carriers (electrons or holes) between its ends.

Molecular-scale Manufacturing
Manufacturing using molecular machinery, giving molecule-by-molecule control of products and by-products via positional chemical synthesis.

Group of atoms held together by chemical bonds, a molecule is the typical unit manipulated by nanotechnology.

Moore's Law
The observation made in 1965 by Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits had doubled every 18 months since the integrated circuit was invented. Moore predicted that this trend would continue for the foreseeable future.

A biological term which refers to the ability to move spontaneously and independently. It can apply to either single-celled or multicellular organisms.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging

Multi Walled Nanotubes

A prefix meaning one billionth (1/1 000 000 000).

An ultra-fine gas bubble of diameter less than 1µm (1µm=1/1,000,000 m). It usually occurs temporarily in the process of shrinking a micro-bubble, but disappears soon because of its physical lability (constant change). Recently scientists have succeeded in producing stabilized nano-bubbles by collapsing micro-bubbles instantaneously in water contain…

Interaction of light and matter on the nanoscale.

An ultra-sensitive, ultra-miniaturized array for biomolecular analysis.

Applies the tools and processes of nano/microfabrication to build devices for studying biosystems.

Polymer/inorganic nanocomposites are composed of two or more physically distinct components with one or more average dimensions smaller than 100nm. From the structural point of view, the role of inorganic filler, usually as particles or fibres, is to provide intrinsic strength and stiffness while the polymer matrix can adhere to and bind the inorga…

A computer made from components (mechanical, electronic, or otherwise) built at the nanometre scale.

Molecular-sized solids formed with a repeating, 3D pattern of atoms or molecules with an equal distance between each part. 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 10nm in diameter, nanocrystals are larger than molec…

Electronics on a nanometre scale, whether made by current techniques or nanotechnology; includes both molecular electronics and nanoscale devices resembling today's semiconductor devices.

Design and manufacture of devices with dimensions measured in nanometres.

Hollow and solid carbon fibres with lengths on the order of a few microns and widths varying from tens of nanometres to around 200nm.

Controlling nanoscale amounts of fluids.

One of the SWNT (single walled carbon nanotube) types, with an irregular horn-like shape.

See soft lithography.

Nanolithography is the art and science of etching, writing, or printing at the microscopic level, where the dimensions of characters are on the order of nanometers. This includes various methods of modifying semiconductor chips at the atomic level for the purpose of fabricating integrated circuits (ICs). Instruments used in nanolithography include …

The process of manipulating items at an atomic or molecular scale in order to produce precise structures.

One billionth of a metre. 10-9m, or a millionth of a millimetre.

Nanoscopic pores found in purpose-built filters, sensors, or diffraction gratings.

Between 0.1-100nm.

Nanoscale metal spheres that can absorb or scatter light at virtually any wavelength.

A nanowire wrapped into a helix.

Areas of technology where dimensions and tolerances in the range of 0.1nm to 100nm play a critical role.

A one-dimensional fullerene (a convex cage of atoms with only hexagonal and/or pentagonal faces) with a cylindrical shape.