Get to grips with nanotechnology... fast

Don't know your nanotubes from your solar cells? Become an expert in minutes with Dan Poole
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The Independent Online

Nanotechnology is a small-scale wonder that's increasingly becoming big news. It can improve all sorts of areas in our lives, including our health, food and the future of the planet. It's all courtesy of the work of scientists and engineers, which means you could have a hand in shaping the future. Read on for our nanotechnology picture special, and discover 10 fascinating facts in our beginner's guide as you go...

1. A nanometre is one billionth of a metre.

2. The prefix "nano" is derived from the Greek word for dwarf.

3. Physicist Richard Feynman was the first person to broach the idea of nanotechnology in 1959, in a lecture to the American Physical Society.

4. Feynman didn't actually use the term "nanotechnology" in his lecture though - that came courtesy of Professor Norio Taniguchi of Tokyo Science University in 1974.

5. Nanotechnology is in your food. Nano-sized vitamins are being made as we speak that are easier for our bodies to absorb. In the future, scientists even hope to create food and drink that could change colour, flavour or nutrients on demand.

6. At a nanometre scale, the normal rules of physics and chemistry no longer apply, which is why there are so many exciting possibilities. For example, a carbon "nanotube" is 100 times stronger than steel but six times lighter.

7. The synthetic material used in football shirts that draws moisture away from a player's skin is all down to nanotechnology; without it the likes of Wayne Rooney would be very sweaty indeed.

8. There are two main types of nanotechnology: top-down and bottom-up. Top-down nanotechology is when devices are built by stripping down materials from bigger objects; bottom-up is when devices are built atom by atom from scratch.

9. One day, nano-sized sensors could be put into your body and be able to send information to your doctor using a mobile phone or the internet.

10. Nanotechnology can help towards a more sustainable future. For example, solar panels are effective but big and clunky. Scientists are now using light-sensitive nanomaterials instead, which means a solar cell can be put onto thin plastic and cover all sorts of surfaces, including things like mobile phones and MP3 players.