Journal of Nanoparticle Research

, Volume 11, Issue 6, pp 1251-1310

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

In quest of a systematic framework for unifying and defining nanoscience

  • Donald A. TomaliaAffiliated withDepartment of Chemistry, The National Dendrimer & Nanotechnology Center, Central Michigan University Email author 


This article proposes a systematic framework for unifying and defining nanoscience based on historic first principles and step logic that led to a “central paradigm” (i.e., unifying framework) for traditional elemental/small-molecule chemistry. As such, a Nanomaterials classification roadmap is proposed, which divides all nanomatter into Category I: discrete, well-defined and Category II: statistical, undefined nanoparticles. We consider only Category I, well-defined nanoparticles which are >90% monodisperse as a function of Critical Nanoscale Design Parameters (CNDPs) defined according to: (a) size, (b) shape, (c) surface chemistry, (d) flexibility, and (e) elemental composition. Classified as either hard (H) (i.e., inorganic-based) or soft (S) (i.e., organic-based) categories, these nanoparticles were found to manifest pervasive atom mimicry features that included: (1) a dominance of zero-dimensional (0D) core–shell nanoarchitectures, (2) the ability to self-assemble or chemically bond as discrete, quantized nanounits, and (3) exhibited well-defined nanoscale valencies and stoichiometries reminiscent of atom-based elements. These discrete nanoparticle categories are referred to as hard or soft particle nanoelements. Many examples describing chemical bonding/assembly of these nanoelements have been reported in the literature. We refer to these hard:hard (H-n:H-n), soft:soft (S-n:S-n), or hard:soft (H-n:S-n) nanoelement combinations as nanocompounds. Due to their quantized features, many nanoelement and nanocompound categories are reported to exhibit well-defined nanoperiodic property patterns. These periodic property patterns are dependent on their quantized nanofeatures (CNDPs) and dramatically influence intrinsic physicochemical properties (i.e., melting points, reactivity/self-assembly, sterics, and nanoencapsulation), as well as important functional/performance properties (i.e., magnetic, photonic, electronic, and toxicologic properties). We propose this perspective as a modest first step toward more clearly defining synthetic nanochemistry as well as providing a systematic framework for unifying nanoscience. With further progress, one should anticipate the evolution of future nanoperiodic table(s) suitable for predicting important risk/benefit boundaries in the field of nanoscience.


Dendrimers Proteins Viruses DNA/RNA Metal (Mo) nanoclusters Metal chalcogenides Metal ligand/oxides Fullerenes Carbon nanotubes Nanoelements Nanocompounds Nanoperiodic property patterns Soft/hard nanoparticles Nanoperiodic table Atom mimicry Nanochemistry