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Editorial: Nanotextiles--Reality or Buzzword?
published in Issue 66, 3rd quarter 2006
The term “nano” is in danger of becoming a buzzword. Strictly, as a prefix it indicates a factor of 10-9—or one billionth. Thus a nanometre is one billionth of a metre. However, the term is being widely misused—often simply to capture the headlines.
In the popular press, claims are being made that some hair loss treatments make use of “nanofibres”. The validity of such claims seems dubious to say the least. Indeed, if the claims were true, such treatments could be hazardous to use as they could be highly toxic.
Misuse of the term “nano” even extends to patent literature—a field where accuracy is paramount. It is not hard to find, for example, patents with “nano” in the title which actually refer to particles of 1,200 nanometres (nm) or 1.2 microns in size. These are too big to come under the strict definition of nanotechnology, which is concerned with materials of 100 nm or below. Patent lawyers who allow such abuses to appear in the public domain have a lot to answer for.
In the academic world, too, there are researchers who consider that any work taking place on the microscale ought to carry the prefix “nano”, whether the work involves materials below 100 nm in size or not. One commentator frankly admits that the mention of “nano” may provide the key to obtaining research funding.
Used in its proper sense, the prefix “nano” can apply to any type of unit. In practice it is most commonly associated with time (nanoseconds) or length (nanometres). Of these, length is more frequently encountered.
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