More than 20 years since nanotechnology first took hold, it has become an essential part of how we think about science, technology, and the world. Nanotechnology is used in everything from sunscreen to dental implants to automobiles, nano products are everywhere. However, despite its prevalence, nanotechnology can be a difficult field to understand. Here, we unpack nanotechnology investing to give you an overview of today’s nanotechnology market.

Defining nanotechnology

The National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) defines nanotech as “science, engineering, and technology conducted at the nanoscale.” It is difficult to conceptualize just now small the nanoscale is. To give an idea, a sheet of newspaper is about 100,000 nanometers thick, and one inch is 25,400,000 nanometers thick.

Nanoscience relies on tools, such as the scanning tunneling microscope (STM) and the atomic force microscope (AFM) to examine the atoms and molecules which constitute our world. Progress in this field is widely applicable across all science fields, including chemistry, physics, and materials science.

How is nanotechnology used?

Nanotech is an interdisciplinary technology, which means that its benefits can be felt across a wide range of industries. Information technology, environmental science, food safety, transportation and homeland security all benefit from its innovations. The National Nanotechnology Initiative reports that there are over 800 everyday commercial products that rely on nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology is used in the vast majority of electronic devices. For example, the displays for cell phones, laptops, and televisions often incorporate nanostructured polymer films (known as organic light-emitting diodes) to offer brighter images, wider viewing angles, better picture display, decreased power usage, and longer lifetimes. Furthermore, it can help turn the waste heat generated by these devices into useable electrical power.

Nanotech is also of major importance in the healthcare industry. For example, nanotechnology has been used in the early diagnosis of atherosclerosis (an imaging technology measures the amount of an antibody-nanoparticle complex that accumulates in plaque) and Alzheimer’s disease.

Cancer, however, is the real driver being the nanotech market. One way that it benefits patients is by using nanoparticles as a platform to facilitate the specific targeting of cancer cells (thus projecting healthy tissue from risk).

Nanotechnology market snapshot

Because of nanotechnology’s versatility, the nanotech market continues to grow. In their Nanotechnology Update, Lux Research reports that governments, corporations, and venture capitalists invested $18.5 billion in the nanotech market in 2012, an 8% increase from 2010. The United States contributed 36% of this capital, including $2.1 billion in federal and state funding and $4 billion from corporations. Revenue also increased to $731 million, up from $339 billion two years prior.

Nanotechnology Market Outlook 2020 reports that the global nanotechnology market is expected to reach $75.8 billion by 2020. This would constitute a compound annual growth rate of 16.5% between 2014 and 2020. Although one nanometer is a mere billionth of a meter, the value of this technology is expected to reach the trillions in three short years. Lux Research reaffirms this positive outlook, forecasting the global value of nano-enabled products, nano-intermediates, and nanomaterials to reach $4.4 trillion in 2018.

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