Investigating nanomaterials represents an extreme challenge of scale. Vanishingly small, nanomaterials are made of particles less than 100 nanometers across. A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter. A sheet of paper, by comparison, seems grossly thick: 100,000 nanometers wide.
They are ancient and natural, part of Earth’s landscape for at least 4.5 billion years. Sand, for instance, is a nanomaterial created by erosion. However, nanomaterials are also creatures of the Industrial Age. For the last 250 years, they have been unintentionally shed into the air, water, and land as a result of mining, farming, manufacturing, transportation, and other human activities.
In the past 50 years or so, nanomaterials have been intentionally engineered to leverage their distinct chemical, physical, and electrical properties. Ranging from medicine and cosmetics to energy and aerospace, nanomaterials can be found in paint, prescription drugs, toothpaste, batteries, bandages, sunscreen, and even socks.
PNNL biologists have developed a more efficient way to estimate salmon survival through dams that uses solid science but saves over 42 percent of the cost.