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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Fall 2008

Tips from the Experts

With this issue of ISTL we inaugurate a new column entitled "Tips from the Experts." We invite our readers to share their expertise for the enlightenment of us all. If you would like to submit a proposal about a subject that educates, enlightens, or inspires, we welcome your ideas. Please see Instructions for Authors and submit your proposal or draft column to


Charles F. Huber
Chemical Sciences Librarian
Davidson Library
University of California, Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara, California

Copyright 2008, Charles F. Huber. Used with permission.


Nanotechnology is a hot topic in most science and technology libraries. The literature of nanotechnology is widely scattered across traditional disciplines. This paper provides an introduction for the non-expert to key terminology, reference works and indexes to the literature of nanotechnology.

Definitions and Key Terms

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines nanotechnology as "The branch of technology that deals with dimensions and tolerances of 1 to 100 nanometres, or, generally, with the manipulation of individual atoms and molecules." The field is older than one might think; the OED's first citation for the use of "nano-technology" is from a production engineering conference in 1974. The concept, if not the term itself, was described in a lecture by Richard Feynman to the American Physical Society in 1959, entitled "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom." However, the field has really only taken off since the year 2000. Compendex shows only three records using the term in 1988, growing to 240 in 1995, 547 in 2000 and 8,493 in the peak year of 2006.

With that explosion of research interest has come a parallel explosion of "nano" terminology. Sometimes it seems as though every word in the scientific and engineering lexicons has had the prefix "nano" stuck onto it by a trendy researcher. Thus, we have nanotubes, nanomaterials, nanostructures, nanodevices, nanowires, nanoparticles, nanobiotechnology, and so on, all referring to artifacts on the 1-100 nanometer dimensions as in the OED definition. There is a temptation for a searcher using online catalogs, databases or full-text sources to try to do a comprehensive search using nano* as the search term. However, this is unwise -- the term "nanometer" (or "nanometre" in the UK) is a commonly-used unit of measure for wavelengths of light and may appear in articles having nothing to do with nanotechnology, even in a very broad sense. The searcher is far better off to identify the specific "nano" terms, which are applicable for the desired search.

Beyond the array of "nanothis" and "nanothat," there are some other key concepts in specific areas of nanotechnology that are worth knowing. For example, in nanoelectronics, the terms quantum dot and quantum wire are frequently encountered. These terms refer to structures of conductors or semiconductors whose dimensions are so small that quantum mechanical effects cause electrons to behave as if they were confined to a point or a line, respectively, with very different behaviors than in the exact same material in the bulk state. The term molecular electronic devices is also frequently used in nanoelectronics.

An older term for some types of nanoparticles, especially when referring to particles composed of single elements, is cluster. Atomic clusters frequently display properties significantly different from the same material in bulk, both in electronic properties and in chemical properties, such as catalysis of chemical reactions. A more recent term, frequently applied to arrays of atoms or molecules at less than the bulk crystalline level, is supramolecular. Supramolecular chemistry covers a wide range of materials, many of which have nanotechnological applications.

A very special type of nanoparticle is the fullerene. The name "buckminsterfullerene" was originally applied to a specific molecule containing 60 carbon atoms, whose three-dimensional molecular structure resembles a soccer ball, or one of Buckminster Fuller's geodesic domes in spherical form. The term has since been broadened to a whole class of compounds with similar structures, not necessarily spherical, not necessarily closed, and not necessarily composed of carbon. Related terms include fulleranes, fulleroids and metallofullerenes. Nanotubes, especially carbon nanotubes, are close chemical cousins of the fullerenes. Another important related term is endohedral. An endohedral complex has an atom or atoms or small molecule physically enclosed by the cage structure of a fullerene. These, too, may display unique electronic, chemical and catalytic properties.

Not only electrical engineering, but also mechanical engineering has been extended to the nanoscale. Here the preferred term is nanomachines, though nanobots is sometimes used for more speculative papers. Nanomachines are considered part of the broader field of microelectromechanical devices, frequently abbreviated as MEMS.

The OED definition above refers to the "manipulation of individual atoms or molecules." The principal methods for moving individual atoms and molecules grew out of techniques used to view structures on the nanoscale. These techniques include atomic force microscopy, scanning electron microscopy and transmission electron microscopy.

Nanostructures can also be created by designing subunits, which will arrange themselves in the proper pattern, pulled together by inter-molecular forces, like a jigsaw puzzle putting itself together in only one possible way. This concept is called self-assembly, and is inspired by the way biological molecules, such as proteins and nucleic acids, fold themselves and stack together to create units with the proper structural or reactive function. Indeed, some self-assembling systems make use, for example, of DNA units, to force the assembly of individual units into the proper three-dimensional structure.

Nanotechnology and the Library of Congress

As with many new fields that cross traditional disciplinary lines, nanotechnology does not fit neatly into any one Library of Congress classification number. Some of the key classifications for nanotechnology works include the following:

HD 9999 .N36-.N364 Nanostructured materials industry
QC 176.8 .M5 Solid state physics, micromechanics
QC 176.8 .N35 Solid state physics, nanomechanics, nanostructures
QC611.8.N33 Nanocrystals
R 856 Biomedical engineering (includes general medical applications of nanotechnology)
R 857 .B54 Biosensors (nanotechnology finds wide application here.)
RS201.N35 Nanoparticles in medicine
T 174.7 Nanotechnology (was: Technological change)
TA 418.9 .N35 Nanostructured materials
TA 418.9 .S62 "Smart" materials
TA 1530 Nanophotonics
TK 7874.8 Molecular electronics
TK 7874.84 Nanoelectronics
TK 7874.85 Nanowires
TK 7874.88 Quantum dots
TK 7875 .M52 Microelectromechanical systems
TK 7875 .N373 Nanoelectromechanical systems

As for Library of Congress subject headings, relevant headings listed below are currently in use:

Molecular electronics
(narrower term: Semiconductor nanocrystals)
Nanoelectromechanical systems
Nanostructured materials
(narrower terms: Nanofibers, Nanoparticles, Nanowires)
Nanosructured materials industry
Nanotechnology ("Here are entered works on the building of machines from the manipulation of individual atoms and molecules.")
Self-assembly (Chemistry)
(broader term: Self-organizing systems)
Ultrastructure (Biology)
(used for: Nanobiology)

Reference Works

Reference works for nanoscience and nanotechnology have proliferated in the past few years. Here is a selection of notable titles:

Schwarz, James A., Contescu, Cristian I., and Petyera, Karol, editors, 2004. Dekker Encyclopedia of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology. New York: Marcel Dekker, Inc.
This five-volume set contains excellent short articles by noted authors in the field covering the whole range of nanoscience and technology. Each article is thoroughly referenced, and the encyclopedia is well-indexed. The work is also available online on the Informaworld platform, and as part of the NANOnetBASE collection from CRC Press (see below.) (Note: A six-volume second edition is scheduled for release in October, 2008 under the CRC Press imprint).

Nalwa, Hari Singh, editor. 2001. Handbook of Advanced Electronic and Photonic Materials and Devices. San Diego: Academic Press
Volume 6 of this reference work is devoted to "Nanostructured Materials." The text contains seven long review articles by prominent authors on nanostructured materials with useful electronic, magnetic and optical properties.

Wang, Zhong Lin, Liu, Yi and Zhang, Ze, editors. 2003. Handbook of Nanophase and Nanostructured Materials. New York: Kluwer Academic / Plenum Publishers, Tsinghua University Press.
The first volume of this set is devoted to syntheses of nanostructured materials: the second to characterization: the third and fourth to materials systems and applications. While not as attractively designed or well-written as some of the other works noted here, there is still considerable value in the unique content, especially in the first two volumes.

Nalwa, Hari Singh, editor. 2000. Handbook of Nanostructured Materials and Nanotechnology. San Diego: Academic Press
The five volumes of this set are divided into Synthesis and Processing, Spectroscopy and Theory, Electrical Properties, Optical Properties and Organics, Polymers and Biological Molecules. The articles are by a group of international experts, well-written and well-referenced. (Note: A one-volume "concise edition" of this work, entitled Nanostructured Materials and Nanotechnology, is available from Elsevier Science Publishers in both print and electronic forms.)

Bergeson, Lynn and Hester, Tracy, editors, 2008, Nanotechnology Deskbook, Washington, DC: Environmental Law Institute
This is a very different work from the other reference tools in the list. Rather than being devoted to the science of nanotechnology, this title pulls together the U.S. Federal laws and regulations that currently impact the use of nanotechnology and indicates where laws need to be modified to encompass new nanotech applications. Environmental scientists and engineers looking at real concerns will find this text of considerable interest.

Bhushan, Bharat, editor, 2007, Springer Handbook of Nanotechnology, 2nd edition. Berlin, New York: Springer
A hefty one-volume work (it grew from some 1,200 pages in the first edition to over 1,900 pages in the second edition!), the Springer Handbook focuses on nanomechanical devices, their creation and properties, avoiding nanoelectronics and nanochemistry. It covers nanomechanical devices in great depth, with some especially excellent chapters on atomic force microscopy and other related tools for nanomeasurement and assembly.

NANOnetBASE, CRC Press [Online] Available: {} [Accessed: October 15 2008]
This member of CRC Press's netBASE series of electronic book collections contains a growing list of handbooks and monographs on nanotechnological topics (76 titles as of the date above), including the first edition of the Dekker Encyclopedia of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology. Books are full-text searchable, collectively or individually, or may be browsed by table of contents. An institutional subscription is required.


Journals devoted to nanoscience and nanotechnology have been springing up like weeds in recent years. As of October 15, 2008, a search for titles containing nano* in Ulrich's Periodicals Directory yields 117 titles. Some of the more important titles and their publishers are listed below:

In addition many volumes of symposium proceedings from IEEE, SPIE and Materials Research Society (MRS) are devoted to nano topics and should be kept in mind.

Indexes to the Literature

Given the interdisciplinary nature of nanoscience and nanotechnology, there are many indexes to the literature that can be useful depending on the facet of the literature that interests you. The list below is not meant to be comprehensive, but highlights some of the most important or widely available resources:

Environmental Impact of Nanotechnology
Environment Index
Environmental Science & Pollution Management

General Nanotechnology
Google Scholar
Science Citation Index/Web of Science

Nanotechnology Business and Industry
Business Source Complete

Biological Sciences Database

Nanocatalysis, Nanochemistry
Chemical Abstracts/SciFinder


Chemical Abstracts/SciFinder

Nanotechnology Patents
Chemical Abstracts/SciFinder
Google Patent Search
USPTO Patents Database
World Patents Index/Derwent Innovations Index

Nanotechnology Technical Reports
Chemical Abstracts/SciFinder
Energy Citations Database

Database Details:

In-depth index to the business literature, including commercial aspects of nanotechnology. Includes scholarly and trade business publications. Available in a variety of packages containing various subsets of the database.
Provider: ProQuest
Institutional subscription access: ProQuest
Pay-by-the-search access: DataStar, DIALOG, STN

Biological Science Database
Broad coverage of biology, including biotechnology and nanobiotechnology. Covers journal articles and conference papers. Good indexing of biological concepts.
Provider: ProQuest (CSA)
Institutional subscription access: CSA Illumina
Pay-by-the-search access: See "BioEngineering Abstracts" on DIALOG, or "Biotechnology and Bioengineering Abstracts" on STN

Most comprehensive biological sciences database, including biotechnology and nanobiotechnology. Covers journal articles and conference papers. Thorough indexing especially of biological concepts, taxonomic groups.
Provider: Thomson Reuters
Institutional subscription access: Web of Knowledge, Ovid
Pay-by-the-search access: DataStar, DIALOG, Ovid, Questel/Orbit, STN

Business Source Complete
In-depth index to the business literature, including commercial aspects of nanotechnology. Includes scholarly and trade business publications. Available in a variety of packages containing various subsets of the database.
Provider: EBSCO
Institutional subscription access: EBSCOhost

Chemical Abstracts/SciFinder
World's most comprehensive source for chemistry, biochemistry and chemical engineering, including nanomaterials, nanocatalysis, fullerenes, atomic clusters, etc. Covers journal articles, patents, conference papers, technical reports, dissertations. In-depth subject indexing, chemical substance and chemical reaction indexing.
Provider: Chemical Abstracts Service
Institutional subscription access: Chemical Abstracts Service provides various access routes: SciFinder (commercial client/server platform), SciFinder Scholar (academic client/server platform), SciFinder Web.
Pay-by-the-search access: DataStar, DIALOG, Ovid, Questel/Orbit, STN

World's most comprehensive source for all areas of engineering, including nanotechnology. Covers journal articles, conference papers. In-depth subject indexing.
Provider: Elsevier Science Publishing
Institutional subscription access: Ei Village, Ovid
Pay-by-the-search access: DataStar, DIALOG, Ovid, Questel/Orbit, STN

Energy Citations Database
Index to energy-related and DOE-funded research. Covers journal articles and technical reports. Many recent technical reports are available in full text.
Provider: U.S. Department of Energy
Free access; Energy Citations Database ( Also included in

Environment Index
Index to the literature of environmental science. Covers journal articles
Provider: EBSCO
Institutional subscription access: EBSCOhost

Environmental Science & Pollution Management
Index to the literature of environmental science. Covers journal articles, conference papers.
Provider: ProQuest (CSA)
Institutional subscription access: CSA Illumina
Pay-by-the-search access: DIALOG

Index to worldwide patents, especially European Patent Office (EPO) and World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO) documents. Most patents are available as full text PDF files. Searching is by keyword or patent number; no specialized indexing is provides.
Provider: European Patent Office
Free access: Esp@cenet (

Google Patent Search
A "beta" service of Google, this database provides full-text searching of U.S. patents, including pre-1976 patents using OCR generated full-text indexing. Full-text images are available. No specialized indexing is provided. Note that the OCR indexing is less than perfect and can lead to search errors.
Provider: Google
Free access: Google Patent Search (

Google Scholar
A "beta" service of Google, this database provides access to articles from scholarly journals and educational web sites. Searching is full-text, with no specialized indexing provided.
Provider: Google
Free access: Google Scholar (

The premier indexing database for physics, electronics and computing, including nanoelectronics and many types of nanoassembly (e.g., atomic force microscopy.) Covers journal articles and conference papers. In-depth subject indexing, with some specialized chemical indexing.
Provider: Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET)
Institutional subscription access: Ei Village, IOP Scitation, Ovid, Web of Knowledge
Pay-by-the-search access: DataStar, DIALOG, Ovid, Questel/Orbit, STN

The most important index to the medical literature, including nanomedicine and nanobiotechnology. Covers journal articles. Very good systematic indexing of medical topics.
Provider: National Library of Medicine
Free access: PubMed ( Also included in
Institutional subscription access: CSA Illumina, Ovid, Web of Knowledge (Note: MEDLINE searching is included in all SciFinder versions.)
Pay-by-the-search access: DataStar, DIALOG, NLM, Ovid, Questel/Orbit, STN

An index to U.S. government technical reports. Some subject indexing.
Provider: National Technical Information Service (NTIS)
Free access: NTIS (
Institutional subscription access: NISC
Pay-by-the-search access: DataStar, DIALOG, Ovid, Questel/Orbit, STN
A portal for multiple databases covering U.S. government technical reports, web sites and some other materials. Includes Energy Citations Database and USPTO Patent database.
Provider: U.S. Department of Energy, United States Geological Survey and other U.S. government agencies.
Free access: (

Science Citation Index/Web of Science
Indexes journal literature across all of science, engineering and medicine, including all areas of nanotechnology. Indexes only the most cited journals in each field – about3,600 titles total. Specializes in cited reference searching and citation analysis. (Note: Thomson Reuters plans on incorporating a conference papers citation index in Web of Science in the near future.)
Provider: Thomson Reuters
Institutional subscription access: Web of Knowledge
Pay-by-the-search access: DataStar, DIALOG, Questel/Orbit, STN

USPTO Patents Database
Indexes U.S. patents, with full-text searching for patents from 1976 forward; pre-1976 searching is by patent number only.) Page images of patents are available in TIFF format. No specialized indexing is available.
Provider: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
Free access: USPTO (

World Patents Index/Derwent Innovations Index
Indexes patents worldwide, in all subject areas, with enhanced titles and abstracts, and detailed subject indexing. Patent Citation Index adds citation indexing of patents. Derwent Innovations Index combines WPI and Patent Citation Index.
Provider: Thomson Reuters
Institutional subscription access: Web of Knowledge (Derwent Innovations Index)
Pay-by-the-search access: (WPI and PCI) DIALOG, Questel/Orbit, STN

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