The term nanoscale refers to structures that can be measured in nanometers (one billionth of a meter or 0.000000001 meters), from the atomic scale (angstroms) to the cellular scale (tens of microns.) A single nanometer is approximately one hundred thousand times smaller than the thickness of a human hair. Many outstanding problems in nanoscale science concern phenomena in the size-range between 1 and 100 nanometers, and these problems are a major focus of CNS efforts.
Nanoscale Systems are a set of nanoscale components or structures working together to serve a purpose or function. These systems may be in the form of materials, sensors, devices or experimental constructions for the measurement of fundamental physical, chemical or biological properties. Improved understanding of phenomena on the nanoscale is crucial for many areas of science and technology. Progress in nanoscale systems will be essential for advances in medicine, biology, and environmental science, as well as in materials science and computer technology.
Major challenges in nanoscale science include the synthesis or fabrication, and the characterization of new kinds of nanoscale structures, as well as the study of naturally existing objects. Other important problems concern the assembly of nanoscale structures into macroscopic objects or devices with new and controllable properties. Experimental methods require combinations of physical, chemical, and biological techniques to create and study these structures. Electron microscopy and advanced imaging techniques play a fundamental role in nanoscale science; our ability to “see” nanoscale systems provides us with a powerful tool for their future development. Nanoscale systems may be built "from the bottom up", using chemistry and crystal growth techniques, or biological agents; or they may be fabricated "from the top down", using lithographic patterns to control the deposition or removal of material from a surface. Theoretical understanding of nanoscale structures requires, at various points, the use of quantum mechanics, classical mechanics and fluid dynamics, and advanced methods of statistical science, as well as empirical knowledge of chemistry and biological pathways.
The wide range of problems studied by CNS associated faculty and the variety of techniques employed are indicated in both the Research and Facilities sections of the CNS web site.