Nanometers: Definition & Symbol

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Damien Howard

Damien has a master's degree in physics and has taught physics lab to college students.

Discover what exactly is meant by the term 'nano'. Then learn exactly how small nanometer-sized objects are and some examples of what exists at that size scale, both naturally and artificially created. Updated: 11/26/2019

The Meaning of Nano

People have been throwing around the prefix 'nano' for a while not knowing what it really means. You can probably trace this phenomenon back to the first release of the iPod nano and the incredible success it had. As more products came out using the prefix nano, people came to associate it with anything small. However nano isn't just a synonym for small. It has a very specific size associated with it. Nano is a metric prefix that stands for one billionth. In the sciences, you most often see the prefix associated with meters, or nanometers. A nanometer is a unit measuring one billionth of a meter in length. In the international system of units, more commonly referred to as SI units, the nanometer is represented by the symbol 'nm.' In scientific notation, one nanometer can be written as 1 x 10^-9 meters.

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Natural Laws of Science: Definition & Examples

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:04 The Meaning of Nano
  • 0:52 The Nanoscopic Scale
  • 2:39 Nanotechnology
  • 3:49 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed

The Nanoscopic Scale

Now that you know that a nanometer is one billionth of a meter, you probably still don't have a good idea of exactly how small that is. A billionth of anything is a hard concept to try and visualize. We can use a couple of examples using objects you might be familiar with to get a better grasp on the size of a nanometer.

Let's imagine we're making a scale model, and in our scale model we have a marble. The diameter of that marble represents a single nanometer. We also want to have another sphere that represents a meter in diameter so we can visually compare the two. Unfortunately, our scale model is going to be quite hard to build, because if the diameter of a marble represents one nanometer, the sphere that represents one meter would have to be the size of the earth. If you're having a little trouble visualizing this because you aren't familiar with meters and the metric system, let's instead quickly look at an inch on a standard ruler. Inside every inch on a ruler there are 15 little markings that break it down from 1/16th an inch all the way through 15/16ths an inch. Say instead of breaking the inch measurements into 16ths we wanted to break it down into nanometers. Then instead of 15 markings on the inside of that inch measurement you would need about 25.4 million markings.

Hopefully you've got a better idea of how small a nanometer is now. Objects that exist at this size range are so tiny that they cannot be seen by optical microscopes. They're considered to be on the nanoscopic scale which consists of the size ranges between 1 and 100 nanometers. A couple examples of objects on the nanoscopic scale would be viruses and deoxyribonucleic acid, a.k.a. DNA. Viruses fall between 30 and 50 nanometers in size, and DNA have a diameter of about 2.5 nanometers. Objects like these on the nanoscopic scale are some of the smallest you can get before heading into the very building blocks of our universe in the atomic scale with molecules and individual atoms.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it now
Create an account to start this course today
Used by over 30 million students worldwide
Create an account