Nanomaterials research must overcome the issue of scalability if it is to make a tangible impact in the real world.
One of the tenets of nanoscience is the fact that the physical and chemical properties of matter change with size, and as you reach the nanometre length scale new behaviours start to appear. This is largely the appeal of doing science at this scale. We can now study, manipulate and control nano-objects — even one at a time in many cases — to produce a desired effect or a property that cannot be achieved in the bulk. The rush to the nanoscale is almost ubiquitous in science, because nanoscience offers the unique ability to understand physical and chemical processes at the most fundamental level. In principle, this knowledge should be instrumental to improve and optimize a system under investigation.
But despite these fundamental advances, nanotechnology is confronted with a critical bottleneck. We are still struggling to translate the fundamental advances reported in the scientific literature into tangible technological applications that can be appreciated at the layman's level. The problem is twofold. First, the properties of matter change when scaled up, just like they change when scaled down to the nanoscale; in particular, the level of control that can be exerted at the nanoscale or at the single-object level tends to wane at the meso- and macroscales or when dealing with a large number of objects. And second, industry is reluctant to invest money in developing new large-scale processes for nanomaterial fabrication unless they are guaranteed a sizeable profitable return.