It’s clear to most people that the term nanotechnology is almost impossibly broad, and that to be useful it needs to be broken up into subcategories. In the past I’ve distinguished between incremental nanotechnology, evolutionary nanotechnology and radical nanotechnology, on the basis of the degree of discontinuity with existing technologies. I’ve been thinking again about classifications, in the context of the EPSRC review of nanotechnology research in the UK; here one of the things we want to be able to do is to be able to classify the research that’s currently going on. In this way it will be easier to identify gaps and weaknesses. Here’s an attempt at providing such a classification. This is based partly on the classification that EPSRC developed last time it reviewed its nanotechnology portfolio, 5 years ago, and it also takes into account the discussion we had at our first meeting and a resulting draft from the EPSRC program manager, but I’ve re-ordered it in what I think is a logical way and tried to provide generic definitions for the sub-headings. Most pieces of research would, of course, fit into more than one category.
Enabling science and technology
Methods for making materials, devices and structures with dimensions less than 100 nm.
2. Nanocharacterisation and nanometrology
Novel techniques for characterisation, measurement and process control for dimensions less than 100 nm.
Theoretical and numerical techniques for predicting and understanding the behaviour of systems and processes with dimensions less than 100 nm.
4. Properties of nanomaterials
Size-dependent properties of materials that are structured on dimensions of 100 nm or below.
Devices, systems and machines
The use of nanotechnology to study biological processes at the nanoscale, and the incorporation of nanoscale systems and devices of biological origin in synthetic structures.
The use of nanotechnology for diagnosing and treating injuries and disease.
7. Functional nanotechnology devices and machines
Nanoscale materials, systems and devices designed to carry out optical, electronic, mechanical and magnetic functions.
8. Extreme and molecular nanotechnology
Functional devices, systems and machines that operate at, and are addressable at, the level of a single molecule, a single atom, or a single electron.
Nanotechnology, the economy, and society
Issues associated with the commercial-scale production of nanomaterials, nanodevices and nanosystems.
The interaction between individuals and society with nanotechnology. The design of products based on nanotechnology that meet human needs.
11. Nanotoxicology and the environment
Distinctive toxicological properties of nanoscaled materials; the behaviour of nanoscaled materials, structures and devices in the environment.
All comments gratefully received!