The words behind SeeingNano

The SeeingNano tools (available in the ‘Resources‘ section) are built around the SeeingNano Lexicon and Glossary, downloadable in full here:

A selection of key terms is reproduced below:

Three Nano Themes

Surfaces and surface phenomena

As the size of a system decreases into the nanoscale the ratio of surface area to volume dramatically increases and the system becomes dominated by the surface and the surface properties rather than the bulk (as in normal systems).
Illustrated in SeeingNano with the nano-engineered surface of a car engine piston.

Emergent and divergent phenomena

At length scales below 100 nanometers, quantum phenomena become important and new functionalities are observed which are size-dependent.
Illustrated in SeeingNano with the use of Quantum Dots in portable displays.


Self-organisation processes are where molecules or nano-sized particles spontaneously adopt an overall structure as a result of the local interactions within the initially disordered system. These assemblies are often able to survive and self-repair substantial damage or perturbations
Illustrated in SeeingNano with tooth reconstruction technologies known as self-assembling peptides.

Risk Parameters

Exposure assessment

Qualitative and/or quantitative evaluation of the intake of an agent with regard to the relevant routes of exposure in individual cases (e.g. intake through food intake, breathing or skin contact)


Hazard is associated with the intrinsic ability of an agent or situation to cause adverse effects to a target such as people, environment, etc. This ability may even never materialize if, for example, the targets are not exposed to the hazards or made resilient against the hazardous effect.

Hazard characterisation

Qualitative and/or quantitative evaluation of adverse health effects that could arise from the risk source, if necessary under consideration of a dose-response relationship.

Hazard identification

Identification of the biological, chemical or physical agent which could have adverse health effects


Risk […] takes the probability and the scale of damage into account that a harmful event will occur. The decisive factor is the weighing of the possible scale of damage with the probability of exposure and the related harm. Thus, risk is deemed to be the probability of the occurrence of a harmful event.

Risk acceptance

Risk acceptance is related to the approval of risk decisions or risk communication.

Characterisation Definitions

AFM (Atomic force microscope)

A scanning probe microscope (SPM) that is able to measure local conditions of a sample including surface roughness, height, friction and magnetism that allows an ‘image’ of the sample to be built up. An AFM works by using a probe tip on a cantilver arm that is used to scan across the surface of the sample.


Also know as a micron, a micrometre is one milioneth of a meter (10-6).


A nanometre is one billionth of a meter (10-9m).


A unit of length equal to one ten-billionth of a metre or 0.1 nm. Its symbol is Å.

SEM (Scanning electron microscope)

Type of electron microscope that produces images of a sample by scanning it with a focused beam of electrons. The electrons interact with atoms in the sample, producing various signals that can be detected and that contain information about the sample’s surface topography and composition. It can achieve resolution better than 1 nanometer; much higher than optical microscopes due to the wavelength of the electrons being much smaller than that of visible light photons. There are many variants which can give additional information on chemical and physical structure. First developed in 1937.

Timeline: the History of Nanotechnology

The Timeline gives a history of important eras in the development and awareness of nanotechnology. The times explored range from B.C to 2015.

Scroll down the timeline and learn about key events and dates in the history of nanotechnology. A few examples:

  • 1661. Robert Boyle declared ‘tiny particles of matter combine to produce corpuscles’ in contrast to the Aristotelian view of matter as being mixtures of the 4 elements (earth, fire, water and air).
  • 1951. Erwin Müller pioneered the field ion microscope, a means to image the arrangement of atoms at the surface of a sharp metal tip; he first imaged tungsten atoms.
  • 1959. Richard Feynman of the California Institute of Technology gave what is considered to be the first lecture on technology and engineering at the atomic scale, “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom” at an American Physical Society meeting at Caltech.

Download the full timeline here:

Are there health risks related to nano- science and technology?

Nanotechnology is the generic term for a wide range of technologies used in the research, development, processing and production of structures and materials measured within the nanometre scale. Materials which have been processed at the nano scale can have completely different properties than the material they were made of originally. Because of their small size, shape, high mobility and higher reactivity nanomaterials can have different toxic intensities than the original material and make their way into other organs.

In principle, every new nanomaterial has to be assessed with regard to potential toxic properties as well as to the ways it may intrude and react in the human body. Generally, humans are less exposed to solid nanomaterials which are bound in a matrix and cannot be released to enter the body. In contrast, unbound nanoparticles (in liquid or gaseous materials) in a size smaller than 100 nm can principally enter the human organism via the respiratory tract, the skin or the gastrointestinal tract. However, even unbound nanoparticles tend to aggregate into larger unions (larger than 100 nm) the latter which no longer pose the specific risks linked to small size and higher reactivity. Scientists believe that the greatest risks stem from the inhalation of nanoparticles. The possibility of nanoparticles penetrating healthy human skin, by contrast, has been largely ruled out by the latest scientific findings. Whether there are any risks involved in the intake of nanoparticles via the gastrointestinal tract is not known already.