Nanotechnology and Nanoscience is a relatively new field that started in 1959 where scientists started doing research on nano (small) particles. The prefix nano comes from the ancient Greek word for "dwarf".
It is all about the creation, manipulation and measurement of structures, devices and materials at the molecular or atomic scale. Nanotechnology PhD student at CSIR and Wits University, Steven Nkosi, from the nanotechnology science centre in Pretoria, describes it as science on a tiny scale.One nanometre is one millionth of a millimetre, very, very small.
It is about breaking materials into their smallest forms and seeing how one can improve the performance of that particular object. This means absolute precision, down to one single atom and the use of less energy.
Giving an example of materials for solar powered energy, Nkosi says materials from the device can be chopped into tiny scales to get enhanced performance and improve the function of the device.
With nanotechnology they are able to make the sensors detect the smallest amount of gas underground.
Elaborating about gas sensors in the mines, he says these sensors are needed so that miners do not find themselves in dangerous situations. With nanotechnology they are able to make the sensors detect the smallest amount of gas underground. In that way making like underground safer for the miners.
Nkosi says South Africa is "investing a lot of money in the nano centres". South African universities are also becoming more aware of this science. Nkosi says as a country we are slowly catching up to the rest of the world, the research is progressing.
He says he feels learners are not given enough information on science careers. "The centre I work for goes out into the communities from different backgrounds and encourage and show the learners that science is fun and that they too can do this by taking science and maths at school," says Nkosi.
Nkosi says one of the objectives of the centre is to "invite schools to see our labs we also go to schools and have exhibitions and conduct few experiments to show the learners."
He says nano science has a bright future because there is so much that still needs to be improved on and nanotechnology is the way to discovering and improving on those things.