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This high school Chemistry quiz is all about nanotechnology - the handling of matter on an atomic level. In 1981, Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer developed the scanning tunneling microscope. This is an instrument for imaging the surfaces of matter at the atomic level, for which they received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1986. By the end of the 1980's, this microscope had even been used to manipulate individual atoms.
Fullerenes were the first potentially useful nanoparticles to be discovered (in 1985 by Harry Kroto, Richard Smalley and Robert Curl) who together won the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Fullerines are tiny cage-like structures made entirely from carbon atoms and these discoveries are regarded as the birth of nanotechnology. In 1991, the first carbon nanotubes were discovered, these are tiny tubes made entirely from carbon. Depending on the type of tube, they have walls that are a single atom in thickness. The diameter of the tubes is around one nanometre (that's an incredible one billionth of a meter diameter).
Since the 1980s, scientists have been developing the use of nanotechnology in a variety of fields. At some point in the future, it may be possible to make miniature machines from these nanoparticles but for the moment, their main properties of lightness and incredible strength enable them to be used in composite materials like sports equipment, making it stronger and lighter. Other uses are in clothing and healthcare. Silver nanoparticles have been added to socks. Silver is a bactericide and kills off the bacteria that cause smelly feet. The same technology has been used to develop bandages that help wounds stay clean and heal faster. Carbon nanotubes have been used to create stain resistant clothing.
In your exam, you are expected to know and understand that nanoparticles of a material show different properties compared to larger particles of the same material. They have a large surface area to volume ratio. A good example of this is the sunblock used by sportspeople. When it is smeared onto the skin it looks white. This is because the titanium dioxide that is used to block the harmful UV also reflects light. Sunblock made using titanium dioxide nanoparticles works equally as well but since the nanoparticles don't reflect visible light, they cannot be seen on the skin. There are many other potential uses of nanoparticles. At some point in the future, nanotechnology may enable scientists to build tiny machines that can carry out tasks in inaccessible situations. Despite this potential, some scientists are concerned that nanoparticles may be harmful to living creatures. If they land on the skin, they are so small that they could pass through the skin and be carried round the body in the bloodstream. It isn't yet known if they would damage the organs of the body - more research is needed.
Have a go at this quiz and see how much you know about nanotechnology - the handling of matter at an atomic level.
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