Is “nano” misused?

CIOL Bureau
New Update

NEW YORK: Even though nanotechnology is still in its infancy, the nano prefix is quickly growing into one of the most over-used and misused phrases in the English language.

More than 1 million entries containing the word "nano" turned up using Google, the Internet search engine, while lists dozens of companies with nano in the name.


The Institute of Nanotechnology Web site even has a section labeled: Nano Events.

"It's kind of a fad word people use now to give the appearance of being high tech," said Jim Lowe, senior editor for Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

The dictionary defines nanotechnology as "the art of manipulating materials on an atomic or molecular scale, especially to build microscopic devices."

Nano comes from nanometer, a unit of measure equal to a billionth of a meter, or about the size of a single molecule. The thickness of a human hair, for example, measures about 50,000 nanometers.Merriam-Webster currently has nine nano entries pertaining to various things of microscopic size. These don't begin to explain the creative uses for nano that are popping up everywhere.

Presumably, Nano Seconds Convenience Store is not able to get you coffee and a newspaper and have you out the door in the billionths of seconds their name would suggest.

Start-up companies, looking to raise funds through excitement over the emerging technology that could yield breakthroughs in medicine, science, computers, communications and manufacturing have seized on nano names. Others have changed their names to emphasize their nanotech association.


"This is in the great tradition of picking up on the latest buzz prefix or suffix and attaching it to your company's name to make it sound cool. And that can translate into more investment and better chance in the market place," said Mark Robinson, senior editor for Wired Magazine.

Nano-tex, which is majority owned by Burlington Industries Inc. and aims to improve textiles at the molecular level, could have you outfitted in nanopants before long.

They have already listed trademarks such as nano-care and nano-pel for their stain and wrinkle-resistant materials.

The environmental crusaders from Greenpeace may not be sure what nanotechnology is, but they are already against it. They have called for a moratorium on the release of nanoparticles in commercial products until studies of potential nano pollution can be completed.


Some resistance to nanotechnology could be inspired by the likes of Michael Crichton's novel "Prey," which envisions a plague of deadly microscopic robots, Robinson suggests.

Such fears or negative associations have not stopped companies and Internet sites from jumping on the nano bandwagon -- even if nanotechnology has nothing to do with their products.

"What's interesting is that technology-derived things often become the dominant metaphor and break out of the technology realm and start going into areas that you never would have thought they had any place. But people latch onto them because they resonate, and that's definitely what's happening with nano," Robinson said. ( deals with setting up and maintaining coral reef ecosystems in small home aquariums, but one does not need microscopes to enjoy them.

Enthusiasts are referred to as nano reefers, which apparently has nothing to do with minuscule marijuana cigarettes.

And then there is Nano Products of San Francisco, maker of The Nano Bag. The cozy sack for carrying babies is designed to secure them into car seats, strollers and high chairs "without removing baby from the Nano Bag."

All that's missing is a nano flap for easy access to wiping nano bottoms.

© Reuters