The power of nano

Manipulating at the nanoscale allows us to reimagine matter.

A nanometer is a mere one billionth of a meter. If you were to travel 50,000 nanometers, you'd only be halfway across the width of a human hair. But researchers have discovered that matter at this scale behaves in revolutionary ways. Twenty-five years of intensive research now gives us the power to reshape our world from the nanoscale up.

It's like lifting a corner of the periodic table and discovering another version underneath—one that lists the same elements, but with entirely new properties for the compounds and materials they form.

Consider graphite, a form of carbon familiar to us as the lead in a No. 2 pencil. A decade ago researchers figured out how to create sheets of graphite just one atom thick. This is graphene, the thinnest material known to exist. Flexible, lightweight, and incredibly conductive electrically, it's also the strongest material known to humanity—200 times stronger than steel.

Now, for elements across the periodic table, MIT scientists and engineers are revealing astonishing new behaviors—and inventing powerful ways to put them to work.

Urgent problems demand that we start now, and move fast.

Cloud computing, for example, is predicted to increase a thousand-fold over the next decade. Such growth, however, would require 50 times the electricity used by the entire US economy today. Nanotechnology could address this challenge—and a host of other global challenges with long-term implications—but we need to start now, and move fast.

Yet the road forward at MIT has a traffic jam. Our nano innovation spaces are twice as busy as any comparable facility in the world. Moreover, the current configuration is restraining our students and faculty just when they want to accelerate: our tools and equipment are distributed across the campus in individual labs, and researchers often wait for access. MIT.nano will harness the creative force of MIT in one powerful, central location to address both the challenges and opportunities before us.