Everything is made of atoms, which are mysteriously composed of mostly empty space, and we are learning how to image and manipulate individual atoms and molecules, harnessing the properties that emerge at their very small size scale in the new fields of nanoscience and nanotechnology.
The nanoscale world is measured in billionths of meters, and it is too small to see.
Matter behaves differently at the nanoscale, for example, gravity has less significance than the "stickiness" of atoms, smaller bits of material are more reactive than larger bits of the same material. Heat and motion are equivalent.
Atoms are made of electrons zooming around a nucleus and the distance between the outer electrons and the nucleus of an atom is vast. Matter is mostly empty space.
Materials are made of molecules with are made of different combinations of atoms
A scanning probe microscope converts data about the forces of individual atoms to construct images of them.
Don Eigler led the first team to use a scanning probe microscope to not only image but also to move individual atoms. This 1989 event is often considered the birth of nanotechnology.
Nanotechnology is very new, but it is already being used in lots of commercial and consumer products.
Care must be taken with using these new nano-enhanced materials.
It's okay to ask questions and its fun to think about what things are really made of.
Supported by the National Science Foundation and the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative through the Center for High-rate Nanomanufacturing (EEC-0425826 and EEC-0832785) and the Harvard Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center (PHY06-46094).
Museum of Science, Boston