Introduction to Nanotechnology: The New Science of Small

Course No. 1324
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Course Overview

In 1959, renowned physicist Richard Feynman delivered a prophetic talk to colleagues. He pointed out that no law of nature exists that can prevent scientists from manipulating individual atoms and making almost any product imaginable. It was a bold prediction filled with mind-boggling applications ripped straight from the pages of a science fiction novel.

Now, half a century after Feynman's forecasts, these science fiction conceits are fast becoming scientific fact. And it's all the result of scientists' meticulous investigations into the nanoworld—the atomic realm where distances are measured in billionths of a meter. What we've discovered at the nanoscale has sparked an ever-expanding technological revolution—one that will continue to touch nearly every aspect of human life and will fast become a game-changer in many fields, including

  • engineering, where experiments in materials science will deliver new materials with spectacular properties;
  • communications, where computers are quickly becoming smaller and more powerful than ever before; and
  • medicine, where new technologies can soon help doctors target and treat diseases and illnesses that traditional medical tools can't touch.

In fact, you can already witness the startling power of nanotechnology in once-fantastical but now-possible tools, products, and services such as these:

  • Smartphones: These ubiquitous devices add a multitude of features to a mobile phone, including a web browser, camera, media player, GPS unit, and energy-dense battery.
  • Nano-packaged drugs: Synthetic nanostructures such as liposomes can deliver medication directly to diseased cells, avoiding damage to healthy tissues.
  • Gold nanoparticles: Uniquely useful, nano-size particles of gold have applications ranging from inexpensive pregnancy tests to pathogen-killing treatments.

These and countless other developments are made possible by new techniques that operate at an inconceivably tiny scale. The nanoworld has now become a workshop for chemists, biologists, physicists, and engineers as they collaborate to create a flood of innovations that are defining 21st-century technology.

Two prominent specialists team up to explore this exciting new frontier in Introduction to Nanotechnology: The New Science of Small. In 24 accessible and visually rich half-hour lectures, you get an in-depth explanation of nanotechnology and how it is possible to work in a domain that is nine orders of magnitude smaller than humans—comparable to the difference in scale between you and the sun.

Your guides are Professors Ted Sargent and Shana Kelley of the University of Toronto. One is an electrical engineer, the other a biochemist. Both are dynamic researchers, inventors, and entrepreneurs at the forefront of this amazing interdisciplinary effort.

Into the Nanoworld

Professor Sargent begins the course with a series of lectures that orient you to the nanoscale and then cover some of the most significant developments in electronics that have made use of nanotechnology in computers, communications, and imaging.

Then Professor Kelley delivers a sequence of lectures on her specialty: the biological applications of nanotechnology, especially to medicine. Since the biology of life happens at the nanoscale—in proteins and DNA—research in this area holds great promise for new diagnostic techniques and treatments.

The two professors combine for a lecture on their respective research teams, giving a fascinating glimpse of the collaboration between scientists and engineers as they probe and create the nanoworld. Professor Sargent follows with a look at the beautiful and distinctive shapes revealed at the nanoscale, as well as a sustained investigation of developments that are transforming the way we produce, store, and use energy. The course concludes with each professor giving a lecture on more futuristic examples of nanotechnology, from biologically based nanorobots to smart dust and invisibility cloaks.

Stranger than Fiction

If some of the ideas of nanotechnology sound familiar, that is because science fiction has paved the way. The 1966 movie Fantastic Voyage depicted a submarine and crew shrunk to miniature size and then sent on a life-saving mission through the bloodstream of a comatose patient. Similarly, the Star Trek series featured a small-scale technological marvel called the tricorder, which, among its other functions, could diagnose any disease.

While so far these devices are fictional, aspects of them are now in the works, along with other incredible developments that you learn about in Introduction to Nanotechnology:

  • Nanosurgery: Nanotweezers and nanolasers can target individual cells or even the substructures within cells, bringing elements of Fantastic Voyage to the practice of surgery.
  • Chip-based medicine: Professor Kelley's lab has pioneered nanosensors for cancer diagnosis that are real-life forerunners of Star Trek's tricorder.
  • Cloak of invisibility: A plot device in Harry Potter is becoming achievable with nanotechnology, which shows a way of cloaking certain wavelengths of light to render an object invisible.
  • Artificial photosynthesis: Inspired by plants, researchers are exploring different nanosolutions to energy's holy grail—the production of fuel from sunlight in ways that equal or better what plants achieve.

Virus-built batteries: Nanotechnology includes developments that are even stranger than fiction. One is a microbattery constructed with the help of a genetically modified virus.

A Surprisingly Visual Experience

Amazingly, scientists can see into the nanoworld by using special instruments that rely on the wave properties of electrons or the force fields of atoms to reveal details more than a thousand times smaller than the resolving power of the most powerful optical microscopes.

Professors Sargent and Kelley tour many of the sights in this now-accessible realm, including the atoms in a superlattice, carbon nanotubes, quantum dots, nanopillars, and other synthetic constructions. But did you know that medieval stained glass windows are also a nano-phenomenon? Although the artisans a thousand years ago didn't realize it, the color effects they achieved by grinding finer and finer metal powders for pigments relied on resonance effects at the nanoscale. The same principle underlies plasmonics, a new technique for manipulating light as it bounces between atoms.

Or did you know that the patterns and colors on butterfly wings are another nanoeffect? As you discover in Lecture 23, small changes in nanostructures on the insect's wings cause light to reflect different colors. And in the same lecture, you learn how single-celled diatoms are the ultimate nanoengineers, creating beautifully complex and functional shapes. One of the goals of researchers is to use these tiny creatures to build structures with special properties, effectively employing diatoms as on-site workers in the nanoworld.

Prepare for the Future

Nanotechnology is today's most powerful engine of innovation, turning cutting-edge research into applications at an astonishing rate. Professors Sargent and Kelley are unusually well qualified to describe every step in this process; both have founded successful companies that bring nanotechnology to the marketplace. Both have been named "top innovators" by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's prestigious Technology Review.

As smartphones get smarter, computers get faster, medical care gets better targeted, new materials with surprising properties appear, and the promise of unlimited clean energy seems within reach, the importance of nanotechnology in our lives will only increase. Introduction to Nanotechnology is your unrivaled guide to how we got here and where we're going. Professors Sargent and Kelley encourage you to be informed and stay tuned. It's going to be an exciting ride.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    The Crossroads of 21st-Century Science
    Join Professors Sargent and Kelley for an initial plunge into the nanoscale, the tiny and mind-blowing realm where revolutionary developments are taking place in applied physics, computer science, biology, and medicine. Begin by probing the size of a nanometer and consider how laws of nature and principles of design change at that scale. x
  • 2
    The Fundamental Importance of Being Nano
    Professor Sargent discusses the rules that govern the nanoscale, where the strange effects of quantum mechanics offer exciting possibilities for engineering. Survey the structure of atoms and molecules and their interactions with light, which are fundamental properties at the nanoscale. x
  • 3
    From Micro to Nano—Scaling in a Digital World
    Trace the evolution of the original computer switches—vacuum tubes—to smaller and smaller components: first to discrete transistors and then to printed circuits that have now shrunk to the nanoscale. Learn how Moore’s law predicts exponential progress in this “race to the bottom.” x
  • 4
    Leveraging the Nanometer in Computing
    Moore’s law forecasts that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit will double roughly every two years. This rule of thumb has held for more than half a century. But how long can it continue? The nanoscale offers new challenges and solutions to the problem of producing ever-smaller circuits. x
  • 5
    Leveraging the Nanometer in Communications
    How did the world become networked so fast? Follow a beam of light down a fiber-optic cable to understand why it now costs pennies to send data that would have been billed at more than $100,000 just a few decades ago. x
  • 6
    Sensing the World through Nanoengineering
    Megapixel cameras on cell phones may seem miraculous, but nanoengineering promises far more powerful imaging systems. Quantum dots will give cameras much greater sensitivity and the ability to detect light across a broad range of invisible wavelengths, opening new applications for image processing. x
  • 7
    Nanomedicine—DNA and Gold Nanoparticles
    Begin a series of lectures with Dr. Kelley on nanoscience in biology. The building blocks of life, including DNA, are nanoscale objects, making ideal targets for nanotechnology diagnostic tools and disease treatments. As an example, see how gold nanoparticles are used to identify genetic mutations. x
  • 8
    Nano and Proteins—Enzymes to Cholesterol
    Gold nanoparticles attached to an antibody protein allow a simple pregnancy test. Discover that nanoparticles are also tools for mapping how cholesterol and other protein molecules enter cells. x
  • 9
    Nanoparticles Detect Cancer in Living Organisms
    Learn how metal nanoparticles called quantum dots can signal the presence of cancer cells inside the body. While still experimental, this technology may herald a breakthrough in noninvasive medical imaging. x
  • 10
    Detecting Only a Few Molecules of a Disease
    Turn to cancer diagnostic tools “in vitro”—outside the body. Professor Kelley discusses her own work on a system for disease diagnosis that uses nanomaterials layered on microelectronic chips. This research promises much more efficient detection of the molecules that signal cancer. x
  • 11
    Nanomaterials That Seek and Destroy Disease
    Explore three strategies for treating tumors. A photothermal approach places gold nanoparticles in a tumor and then irradiates the particles from an external source. A similar but more targeted technique tunes the radiation to a precise frequency, sparing surrounding tissues. Finally, learn how the gold nanoparticles themselves can be the tumor-killing agent. x
  • 12
    How Nanomaterials Improve Drug Delivery
    Drugs are administered by injection, inhalation, skin patches, or in pills. These methods deliver only a fraction of the medication to the needed areas, and many potentially useful biomolecules have no effective way to get to their targets. Discover that nanomaterials offer a solution to these problems. x
  • 13
    Delivering Drugs with “Smart” Nanocapsules
    Learn how nano-enabled drug delivery systems can target cells with greater potency and fewer side effects than traditional treatments can. Examples include protein nanoparticles and liposomes, which have already been approved for clinical use. Then examine some next-generation approaches. x
  • 14
    Nanoscale Surgical Tools
    Nanoscale surgical tools can make excisions with incredible precision, ensuring that when a cancerous tumor is removed, no malignant cells remain and no healthy cells are harmed. Explore this ongoing medical revolution, and discover the role of robotics in enhancing the surgeon’s skill. x
  • 15
    Nanomaterials for Artificial Tissue
    Regenerative medicine focuses on producing artificial substitutes that can restore or replace damaged tissues or organs. Learn how nanomaterials stimulate cell and tissue growth in the body. Also follow progress in generating artificial organs outside the body to help meet the demand for organ transplants. x
  • 16
    How Nano Research Gets Done
    Professors Kelley and Sargent introduce their research teams. Discover that nanotechnology is highly interdisciplinary. Chemists generate new materials. Physicists help understand those materials. Biologists put biomolecules and nanomaterials together. And engineers help turn basic discoveries into devices. x
  • 17
    Nanomotifs—Building Blocks, Complex Structures
    Professor Sargent takes a brief interlude to showcase the visual side of nanoengineering. View the complex structures that are built from nanoparts. Starting with nanoparticles, consider the many shapes that can be created, from nanotubes to supercrystals—structures that are not just useful but beautiful. x
  • 18
    Using Nanotechnology to Capture Sunlight
    Starting a sequence of lectures on nanotechnology and energy, Professor Sargent probes the physics of solar cells, which use semiconductors to generate an electric current from sunlight. Learn how nanotechnology is making this renewable energy source more efficient and cost-effective. x
  • 19
    Photons to Electricity—Nano-Based Solar Cells
    Explore further into nanoscale solar cell technology by looking at different techniques for capturing solar energy. Rigid silicon-based hardware may soon be a thing of the past, replaced by inexpensive products such as organic photovoltaics, which are composed of physically flexible organic polymers that can be applied like plastic sheeting. x
  • 20
    Nanotechnology for Storing Energy
    One of the challenges of renewable energy is that its hours of peak production may not correspond to times of peak demand, creating the problem of energy storage. Investigate some solutions that nanotechnology offers, including supercapacitors and a remarkable new class of batteries assembled by viruses. x
  • 21
    Nanotechnology for Releasing Energy
    Catalysts foster a chemical reaction without being consumed by the reaction, using and releasing energy with incredible efficiency. Explore this phenomenon at the nanoscale, seeing how nanomaterials can increase the surface area of a catalyst, which greatly improves its performance for a wide range of applications. x
  • 22
    Energy’s Holy Grail—Artificial Photosynthesis
    The ultimate energy collection and storage system is photosynthesis. Nature does it with plants, but researchers are striving to attain the same result with nanotechnology—using sunlight to produce and store energy in the form of a fuel such as hydrogen. x
  • 23
    Nanorobots and Nature’s Nanomachines
    Learn how nanorobots that take over the world in science fiction usually defy the laws of physics, and survey concerns about the harm that nanomaterials can do. Look at nanovehicles built with buckeyballs for wheels, and then turn to nature’s nanomachines such as diatoms, which build astonishing structures at the molecular level. Explore ways that these tiny creatures may be more effective than nanorobots. x
  • 24
    On the Horizon and in the Far Future
    Close your exploration of nanotechnology by looking ahead at possible near- and long-term developments. One is a real “cloak of invisibility.” Then look back to revisit physicist Richard Feynman’s bold predictions. See how far we’ve come and discover what Feynman apparently overlooked. x

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Your professors

Shana Kelley Ted Sargent

Professor 1 of 2

Shana Kelley
University of Toronto

Professor 2 of 2

Ted Sargent, Ph.D.
University of Toronto
Dr. Shana Kelley is the former director of the Division of Biomolecular Sciences at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Toronto. She earned her Ph.D. in Chemistry from the California Institute of Technology. Professor Kelley's research has been featured in Scientific American and Nature Medicine, among other publications. Her work has been recognized with a variety of awards, including a National Science...
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Dr. Ted Sargent holds the Canada Research Chair in Nanotechnology in The Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Toronto, where he also earned his Ph.D. His research has been disseminated in leading scientific journals, and he is the author of The Dance of Molecules: How Nanotechnology Is Changing Our Lives. In 2007 he addressed the pathbreaking Technology, Entertainment,...
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Introduction to Nanotechnology: The New Science of Small is rated 4.1 out of 5 by 30.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from TOP COURSE I picked this course with the idea of gathering any information that I could. (NANO, meaning almost atomic level). I feel that I am reasonably intelligent so I was hoping for some gain. To my pleasant surprise both presenters were exceptionally clear and understandable. One presented from the electronic side and the other presented from the medical side. I personally feel that I have gained a whole new understanding of the subject. Bang for the buck I feel that this is one of the best courses that I have taken with The Great Courses.
Date published: 2018-05-07
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Lacking in comprehensiveness. As other reviewers have stated, I had high hopes for this course on such a new and fascinating topic, but the course came up lacking. In general the course seems to be oriented to the specific applications of the 2 presenters rather than providing a comprehensive overview and discussion of the wide range of applications and science of nanotechnology. They tend to white-wash the fundamental concepts in an attempt to devote most of their lecture time discussing their particular corner of research. The organization and progression of the concepts are haphazard and disorganized. There were some definite interesting moments, and opportunities to say "wow" and "gee-whiz", but little time spent on pure understanding of the broader, wide-reaching aspects of this science. Some of the graphics were vague or inappropriate to the related discussion. My over-all impression of this course is that it was not well conceived and organized for a general discussion of the subject, but more of a sales pitch for the lecturer's research projects.
Date published: 2017-03-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Biochem Engineering Meets Electrical Engineering This course is a powerful reminder that we are at a crucial point in history with the fusion of biochemical, medical, and electrical engineering developments in the field of nano technology / sciences. The solution designs and intellectual property shared as outcomes of nano science / technology are true gems of what's possible. I like the fact that two different lecturers with completely different backgrounds could collaborate and share their practical experience in the field and the amazing outcomes from collective research. The course is like going to a nanotechnology conference and requires some background knowledge to make the investment worth the purchase. The content / solutions orientation is at an advanced level and may demotivate others from completing the full course. Either way, I thoroughly enjoyed the subject matter and was pleased to see how the professors walked from R&D Labs to Venture Capital Investment resulting in successful companies invested in the future of nanotechnology, quantum computing, and advanced medical / pharma products.
Date published: 2016-02-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from NANOTECHNOLOGY IS THE FUTURE OF EVERYTHING I'm a 79 year old retired mechanical engineer, still working my general repair shop. I find it necessary to keep up with technology and this course is most helpful in doing that. I also have ' Our Night Sky' and 'Experiencing Hubble' and would recommend both to someone interested in Astronomy. A good telescope is a must, look on Ebay.. Now if someone could just explain my smart phone in simple terms.
Date published: 2016-01-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A fairly good introduction to nonotechnology On the whole, I enjoyed this course and learned a lot. Professor Sargent did more lectures and concentrated on physics of small structures, including computers, digital cameras, sensors and so forth. Professor Kelley took the medical side of nanotechnology. Each told about his or her specialty, of course, leaving me to wonder if anything could have been said about other areas as well. Having a background in physics, I was able to follow Professor Sargent reasonably well. But I have to agree with some other reviews that the presentation was uneven. Some things were explained well, and others not so much. In some later lectures I could listen for ten minutes, and wonder what he was talking about, and why. He often said, "We are able to . . ." without saying how or why. For example, "We are able to make these small structures with such and such a shape on such and such a substrate." Okay, are they just doing it to prove they can do it, or is there a point somewhere? I think Professor Kelley did a better job of making it clear just how something worked, and why. The medical application of nanotechnology was new to me, so maybe that's why I found her lectures more engaging. And they must have been pretty good, because I just recently saw an article by her in Scientific American about this very subject. As I read I realized that I already knew most everything in the article and even more because I had seen her lectures in this course. There were many visuals. There would have to be in a course like this, because you couldn't picture these small things without visual helps. Here is where the course could have been improved significantly. There were lots of visuals, most animated. Lots of work went into them. The problem was, often you just couldn't tell what they were about. There were few labels, and when there was a chart, the axes were not clearly explained. You might see that something was a network of different atoms in some complex arrangement, but there was nothing about why this worked or what was the purpose of all these parts. On the whole I would recommend this course to those interested in the topic, with the understanding that there will be moments that are hard to follow or plain unclear.
Date published: 2015-12-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A change of pace I watch the Great Courses DVDs once per week with a good friend. We usually purchase biblically based courses and a few physics and financial ones. Nanotechnology peaked our interest so we ordered it for a change of topics. So far, we are glad we did. We just started the course this week and watched the first three lectures. The two professors are very good and present the material in a clear, concise manner. We are looking forward to learning much from them.
Date published: 2015-02-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great content First, the good news: this is some of the most interesting content I've ever found in a Great Courses lecture series. Only a little of it was familiar to me (I'm very much a non-specialist), but just about all of it made me sit bolt upright in my chair and want to learn more. The things on the horizon in consumer electronics and medicine alone are perfectly amazing. The mildly bad news is that the presentation is a little uneven. On the one hand, these lecturers really know their stuff and obviously are personally involved in breakthrough areas, which is great. On the other, they both struggle a bit in deciding how much sophistication to assume in their audience. One minute, they're hesitant to assume we're familiar with the periodic table of the elements; the next, they're throwing around terms like "quantum dot" as if we had a clue what they meant. (In Lecture 17, we finally hear a simple and useful definition of quantum dot.) But despite all that, I was glued to the lectures from beginning to end and have wanted to read up further on many of the things they described. Even if I sometimes struggled to understand what was going on technically, the practical impact of these new devices and techniques was obvious and mind-blowing. To give only two examples, it looks like we can expect cameras suddenly to get about 4x better soon, and the outlook for the use of nanoparticles in the treatment of cancer, drug-resistant microbes, and other areas is quite bright. I had no idea how much progress had been made in recent years.
Date published: 2014-12-26
Rated 3 out of 5 by from The subject is very interesting. I found two things disappointing. The portion on Medical applications would often use visuals that were inadequately labeled, and all too often were not pertinent to the information being given verbally, or showed something completely off the subject. I presume she is quite knowledgeable about nanotechnology, but her attempt to relate nanotech to medicine is painful. Her predicted impact on cure rates is always overstated with excessive use of superlatives. Statements such as "Cure rates will be DRAMATICALLY improved" and "The results are INCREDIBLE" are just that.....incredible, which of course, means 'not believable'. Her misuse of medical terms is simply embarrassing. What, after all, does the word 'artheriosclerosis' mean? The reputation of the teaching company is besmirched when you allow one of your professors to be so sloppy in her presentation. This embarrassment could easily have been avoided if you had shown the DVD to an Oncologist before selling it to the public. My worst fear is that I caught all her errors because I am a cancer treatment specialist. Is it possible that your other courses are riddled with inaccuracies that I gullibly accept because of my lack of expertise?
Date published: 2014-10-03
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