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Penn State Researchers Explore the Nano World

The nano world is bounded on one side by atoms and subatomic particles, and on the other side by small but recognizable microscopic materials that behave pretty much the way bulk materials do in the everyday world. The nano world is very narrow, from around 1 to 100 nanometers, but it is a particularly important size regime. At the nanoscale, many materials have properties that differ from their bulk counterparts. Some materials show increased strength or unique electrical properties, such as superconductivity. Others change color or react differently as catalysts. Nanoscale materials also have an extremely large surface area for their size, making nanomaterials ultrasensitive detectors of such things as disease cells and toxins.

Nanotechnology is important in the life sciences because many of the body's key biological machines function at the nanoscale. Proteins, DNA, RNA, and the molecules that provide energy and transportation within the cell are in the realm of the nanoscale, and the ability to observe and mimic these natural systems offers one possible blueprint for creating new nanotechnologies.

Penn State researchers are deeply engaged in understanding and measuring the properties of materials at the nanoscale. They are creating new materials and developing new equipment to look at and manipulate objects on the molecular level. They are also fabricating devices that take advantage of the unique properties of nanomaterials, including sensors, electronics, and nanobiomaterials.

Working with colleagues from other universities and industrial partners across the country and around the globe, Penn State researchers are making breakthroughs in fundamental science and applied engineering at the forefront of the nanotechnology revolution. The secret of Penn State's success in nanotechnology is faculty expertise across a broad range of disciplines that find common connections at the nanoscale.

Using theory, computer simulation, and experimentation, Penn State faculty and students work in interdisciplinary teams that provide new and different ways of approaching problems of large societal import, from energy to health to a better understanding of the physical world. At the nanoscale, researchers find common ground and a shared language to bridge the traditional separation of disciplines. And nowhere is this happening with more frequency or excitement than at Penn State.

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