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Nanomaterials


Nanoforms

Nano means 'one billionth'. A nanometre (nm) measures one billionth of a metre, which is about 800,000 times smaller than the diameter of a strand of human hair. The surface of materials at a scale of about 1 -100 nanometres (the nanoscale) may have distinctive properties e.g. in chemical reactivity, strength and electrical and magnetic behaviours. Knowledge of these properties is not new. Roman and medieval glass makers knew that extremely small particles of gold (in today's language, 'nanoform gold' or 'nano gold') can change the colour of glass. In an early example of industrial nanotechnology, they applied this knowledge to make stained glass in an intense shade of red.


Modern nanotechnologies enable the production of nanoforms of minerals and metals, such as nano silica, and the creation of nanoforms of carbon, such as 'fullerenes', 'carbon nanotubes' and 'dendrimers'. There are already numerous nanoparticles / nanomaterials being used in manufacturing because they offer different characteristics to the 'conventional' forms of those minerals and metals and (in terms of product development) can bring about improvements. Tennis balls made from a composite of rubber and nano-clay are said to last longer and windmill blades made with an epoxy that contains carbon nanotubes are said to be stronger and lighter.


However, because each product is designed on the basis of properties that are unique and different from the conventional form, many 'unknowns' in terms of risks to health, safety and the environment can arise.


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