Nanotechnology: Process of creating and using microminiature, or nanoscale-sized, 'machines' by manipulating atoms and molecules using powerful electron microscopes.

'Nano' defined: 'Nano' comes from the Greek word for 'dwarf.' It means one-billionth of a given unit of measurement, i.e., nanosecond or nanometer. Nanoscale is defined as things that are 100 nanometers in size or smaller.

How small is small? A human hair is 100,000 nanometers in diameter.

What's all the excitement about?

Nanotechnology promises major advances in nearly every field, including electronics, semiconductors, medicine, information

technology, agriculture and the environment.

Potential nanotech advances:

• Nanoparticles that deliver drugs to specific sites in the body

• Nano-detection devices able to find cancerous tumors only a few cells in size

• A nano-data trove the size of a sugar cube holding the entire contents of the Library of Congress, reputedly the world's largest library with more than 120 million items

• Nano-brain implants enabling brain-damaged individuals to function normally

• Nano-bulldozers that unclog arteries

Microtechnology: A nanotech relative. It involves slightly larger structures and devices that are the size and thickness of a human hair. Researchers at Oregon State University in Corvallis, collaborating with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash., have given Oregon particular strengths in this area.

Potential microtech advances:

• Microreactors of cigarette lighter size that could power a laptop for weeks instead of hours

• Microsystems that produce hydrogen for fuel cells for automobiles

Ñ Mary Bellotti

Sources: Scientific American magazine and its Web site, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

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