The nano domain may be small, but its popularity, potential, and diversity certainly aren't. It is for just this reason the Materials Today team decided to put together this supplement, Nano Today, on nanoscience and technology. We have been overwhelmed by the response, from our sponsors, who have generously supported this endeavor, from our contributors, who you will see have put together some fascinating articles on the research, funding, and applications of nanotechnology, and you, our readers. We hope that you will like what you see here and follow our coverage of the subject in Materials Today and other Elsevier publications.

The first part of the 20th century was dominated by a revolution in physics. Albert Einstein has become an icon, while the bizarre world of quantum mechanics (not to mention Schrödinger's cat) has grabbed much public attention. The latter part of the century, however, was overtaken by biology. Thanks to Crick and Watson's elucidation of the structure of DNA, the notion of the gene has come to dominate our ideas about biology and medicine. What, in retrospect, will be seen as the dominant theme at the start of the 21stcentury? Although its roots lie in much earlier times, as Peter Dobson of the University of Oxford points out in his Opinion on page 48, nanotechnology is emerging as the buzzword of our age. As many a scientist can be heard to complain, ‘nano’ now seems to be added into the title of many a paper or grant proposal to secure attention and/or funding. The area is attracting vast quantities of government support, as evidenced by the latest US science budget and the profile of the funding activities in this area by the UK's Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council on page 28, and venture capital, as Anthony Cheetham of the University of California, Santa Barbara and Peter Grubstein of NGEN Partners explain on page 16.

But why all the excitement? The only defining characteristic of nanotechnology is dimension. Nanotechnology cuts across disciplines without a thought. From physics, we have tools that allow us to see and manipulate matter at unprecedented small scales. From chemistry, we have methods for synthesizing and assembling molecules. From materials science, we know that matter at these scales can exhibit novel and unusual properties. And from biology, we know that this is also the scale of the cell. The reason that nanotechnology is causing so much excitement is the potential to bring together all these disciplines to tackle common problems – and, of course, solve them with a plethora of new applications. For example, Erkki Ruoslahti of the The Burnham Institute explains on page 13, how nanotechnology has the potential to revolutionize medicine because nanoscale devices can do things that are not possible in other ways. Nanotechnology has potential in both the long and near term. Kwan Kwok outlines, on page 20, some of the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's hopes for molecular electronics. In contrast, Michael Pitkethly of QinetiQ Nanomaterials describes, on page 36, some of the more immediate uses to which nanomaterials are being put – from sunscreens to fuel additives.

To come back to where we started, the great strength of nanotechnology is its ability to unite disparate fields and address a range of problems. We should welcome – embrace even – the public interest in nanotechnology, but not forget that with this comes a responsibility to manage expectations and address safety and environmental concerns.

Read full text on ScienceDirect

DOI: 10.1016/S1369-7021(03)00001-4