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Nanoengineering is one field of nanotechnology. Nanotechnology is an umbrella term that encompasses all fields of science that operate on the nanoscale. A nanometer is one billionth of a meter, or three to five atoms in width. It would take approximately 40,000 nanometers lined up in a row to equal the width of a human hair. Nanoengineering concerns itself with manipulating processes that occur on the scale of 1-100 nanometers.
The general term, nanotechnology, is sometimes used to refer to common products that have improved properties due to being fortified with nanoscale materials. One example is nano-improved tooth-colored enamel, as used by dentists for fillings. The general use of the term “nanotechnology” then differs from the more specific sciences that fall under its heading.
Nanoengineering is an interdisciplinary science that builds biochemical structures smaller than bacterium, which function like microscopic factories. This is possible by utilizing basic biochemical processes at the atomic or molecular level. In simple terms, molecules interact through natural processes, and nanoengineering takes advantage of those processes by direct manipulation.
Nanoengineering, in its infancy, has seen some early successes with using DNA as a catalyst to self-assemble simple structures. In 2006 a Brown University research team was able to grow zinc oxide nanowires of approximately 100-200 nm in length by fusing snippets of synthetic DNA to carbon nanotubes. DNA, nature’s manual for creating matter from the bottom up, is of particular interest in the field of nanoengineering. By assembling specific DNA code a nanoengineer can set up the conditions for the genetic code to perform tasks that result in the biochemical assembly of nanomaterials.
The implications of being able to manipulate the “growth” of materials from the atomic level up are enormous. Nanoengineering could potentially lead to a plethora of revolutionary materials and products that would not only benefit areas like aerospace, medicine and technology, but everyday life. Nanoengineering could lead to such practical applications as self-cleaning paint that never fades or needs waxing; planes with skins that de-ice themselves and adjust to different aerodynamic environments; and more efficient and cleaner burning fuels.
One of the most exciting aspects of nanoengineering is that it is exceptionally cost-effective, environmentally friendly (raw product is abundant), non-polluting, and requires little energy. Nanoengineering is believed to be a promising field for young scientific minds looking for a chance to ride the leading edge of a groundbreaking wave of new science heading our way. It is widely believed nanotechnology will have a greater impact on the world than the Industrial Revolution and is predicted to be a multi-billion dollar business by 2015.