National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network

National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network

Serving Nanoscale Science, Engineering & Technology

How Big?

Nanotechnology deals with the very smallest components of our world – atoms and molecules. Trying to understand just how small the nanoscale is can be very difficult for people. A nanometer is a unit of measurement for length just as you have with meters and centimeters. A nanometer is one billionth of a meter, 0.000000001 or 10-9 meters. The word nano comes from the Greek word for “dwarf.” The term nanoscale is used to refer to objects with dimensions on the order of 1-100 nanometers (nm).

To understand how small a nanometer is, we typically compare the nanoscale to objects that we know how big or small they are.  Here are some examples:

  • a human hair is about 60,000 – 80,000 nm wide
  • a fingernail grows 1 nm per second
  • a DNA molecule is 2-3 nm in wide
  • A 2 meter person is 6 feet 6 inches tall or 2 billion nanometers

Another way to help in the understanding of the minuteness of a nanometer is to examine objects on a size scale.  Follow this link to an interactive scale developed by our colleagues at Stanford University and McREL for their NanoLeap project. Use this scale to examine the size for a variety of objects - .



NNIN is no longer active.

Many of its functions have been transered to the National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure,

The content on these pages is no longer maintained and most of the links are dead

Thank you for  your interest.