Impact of Nanotechnology on Chemistry: A Terminology Conundrum

Impact of Nanotechnology on Chemistry: A Terminology Conundrum

The advent of nanoscience and nanotechnology has substantially influenced the vernacular of almost every scientific discipline leading to undiscovered realms of science and creating new research domains (e.g., nanochemistry, nanomedicine, nanomechanics, nanobiotechnology). The fact that nanotechnology does not belong to a single domain of science becomes obvious upon analyzing the publication and citation data. As scientists, standards organizations, and regulatory bodies struggle to agree on a universal terminology, the lack of descriptors and rules to systematize the naming system has led to a plethora of terms (nanoroses, nanobelts, nanoshells, nanocubes, etc.), which often refer to a subjective description of the nanoscopic structural attribute. The wide proliferation and acceptance of the “nanoterminology” in chemistry is reflected in the large and ever-increasing number of publications in all high-impact chemistry journals. In addition, the launch and success of a series of new journals (ACS Nano, NanoLetters, Nanoscale, Small, NatureNanotechnology) devoted to this area confirm the remarkable growth.

The scope of this IUPAC project (2007-040-2-200), entitled Analysis of the Usage of Nanoscience and Technology in Chemistry, was to study the usage of nano-related terminology in chemistry and to analyze its penetration among the various chemical disciplines. Thus, this effort was mainly dedicated to mapping the nano-dominated publication domains by a detailed analysis of peer-reviewed papers, patents, and books. A global analysis of nano- in chemistry terminology should serve as a first step in delivering a guideline for IUPAC to propose some recommendations and suggested terminology in the future. This short summary is extracted from a longer report, available at, which helps clarify how the emergence of nanotechnology impacts the various fields of chemistry.

To map and critically study the use of the prefix nano in various fields of chemistry, different search engines were used to compare the occurrence of nano-containing terms. This information was the input to understand the evolution and usage of nano-containing descriptive terms according to different criteria and to project their validity in scientific (chemical) language.

Keyword-Based Search Strategy

The methodology for collecting key words was a two-step process: In a first step, widely popular chemistry search engines, such as Sci Finder, and the ones provided by the CAS and RSC were used. The hits on “nano*” were analyzed according to different criteria such as time, country, and source. In a second step, the process was repeated by restricting the search to some of the most highly cited journals of each chemistry discipline, to understand if nano- terminology has impacted all the areas of chemistry and if so, to what extent and at what rate. The detailed methodology is explained in the full report. The acquired dataset was based on records from 2000 to 2007 in the field of nano-enhanced publications.

Findings and Observations

The share of nanotechnology papers in chemistry journals has more than doubled over the past 10 years from 12 percent in 1996–1997 to 26 percent in 2006-2007. While the share of nanotechnology papers has grown, there is considerable variation too:

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A Closer Look at the Specialties

The data presented give an overview of the general impact of an emerging interdisciplinary research area, such as nanotechnology. However, no generalizations should be made at this stage. Another approach to explore the role of nanotechnology in chemistry is to explore the emerging intellectual structures associated with nanotechnology. To this end, the task group has carried out co-word analysis to see what kind of intellectual space nanotechnology occupies in certain chemistry journals. While it was not possible to cover all the journals, the findings and concepts have been applied on a selection of journals in different areas of chemistry and with different “nanotech intensity,” including Analytical Chemistry, Macromolecules, Chemistry of Materials, and Angewandte Chemie-International Edition.

For each of these journals, all papers (articles and reviews) for 1996–1997, 2001–2002, and 2006–2007 were downloaded. The data were further processed using the Bibexcel bibliometric freeware developed by Prof O. Persson (Umeå University). Keywords were retrieved for each paper and a stemming algorithm was applied; co-word analysis was carried out on the basis of keywords associated with individual articles, meaning that the most frequent keywords in papers are related to each other on the basis of how often they co-occur.

Comparing the top keywords for the different time periods indicates how the journal has developed. Maps can also be a helpful way to visualize the changes over time. The maps were generated for all three periods of the four journals and can be found in the long report. As an example, the figure in the next column shows the keywords map for Analytical Chemistry for the period 2006–2007, which shows the main topics investigated during those years and the interconnections among them.

The closer two terms are on the map, the more closely related they tend to be. The different clusters resulting from the analysis of co-occurring terms are illustrated by varying colors.

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In summary, the efforts made in this project confirm that nanotechnology crosses many fields, and has had both a general and a discipline-specific impact on the development of chemistry-related terminology and publication. The citation distribution, change of key words, and analysis of nano-prefix terms and other co-word analysis suggests that terminology in nanotechnology has reached a relatively mature level at which convergence is an appropriate step.

For more information contact Task Group Chairs Javier Garcia Martinez <> and Sanjay Mathur <>. JGM is thankful to the University of Alicante and SM to the University of Cologne for providing financial support. The chairs would like to thank the contribution of Martin Meyer, Alan Porter, Ismael Rafols, and Jae Hwan Park for their help collecting, organizing, and discussing the data.

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