Editing Tip: Quirks of Nanoscience Writing

The successful communication of research results in nanoscience depends on properly understanding and using its unique terms and conventions.

Updated on April 22, 2014

The number of publications in nanoscience has rapidly increased in recent years, with a corresponding increase in the impact factors and number of nanoscience journals. As with any field of study, nanoscience has developed its own niche terms and writing conventions. The successful communication of research results in nanoscience depends on properly understanding and using these terms and conventions. Here, we highlight some of the peculiarities of nanoscience writing:

Acronyms and abbreviations

Nanoscience is a uniquely broad field that encompasses the more traditional technical fields of materials science, chemistry, biology, and engineering. As such, nanoscience papers often attract a diverse audience, and careful attention must be paid to the definition of acronyms and abbreviations, regardless of how common their usage is.

  • Common acronyms: TEM (transmission electron microscopy), SEM (scanning electron microscopy), AFM (atomic force microscopy), EBL (electron beam lithography), and CVD (chemical vapor deposition) are a few commonly used acronyms.
  • Acronyms and abbreviations unique to nanoscience: QD (quantum dot), NP (nanoparticle), AuNP and AgNP (gold nanoparticle and silver nanoparticle, respectively), and GNP (gold nanoparticle).
  • Chemicals: Note that for chemicals, the first time that a chemical is mentioned, it should be spelled out, followed by the chemical formula in parentheses (e.g., “cadmium selenide (CdSe)”). Thereafter, the name or the formula can be used interchangeably.

Core-shell and conjugated structures

A significant portion of nanoscience research is devoted to the development of novel nanostructures, such as core-shell or conjugated nanostructures. The nomenclature for these structures has its own unique conventions.

  • Core-shell structures: For nanoparticles that consist of a core of one material and a shell composed of a different material, a special abbreviation is often adopted: X@Y, where X is the core material and Y is the shell material. For example, “the nanoparticle comprised a silver core and a silica shell (Ag@SiO2).”
  • Conjugated structures: Similar to core-shell structures, conjugated structures can comprise two or more different materials in a single structure. For example, it is common to conjugate biological molecules to nanoparticles for sensing or delivery applications. In cases where a uniform coating of the surface molecule is obtained, the core-shell terminology can also be used (e.g., “DNA-coated gold nanoparticles (Au@DNA)”). A hyphen is also acceptable in all cases (e.g., “gold nanoparticles conjugated to DNA (AuNP-DNA)”).

Use of the singular and plural

Because nanostructures can be used either as single entities or as ensembles, careful attention must be paid to subject-verb agreement and use of the singular and plural.

  • Singular: When discussing a single, isolated nanostructure, always use the singular form of the subject and verb. For example, “the nanoparticle was observed by TEM.” Here, the verb “was” agrees with the singular form of the subject, “the nanoparticle.”
  • Plural: When discussing a collection of nanostructures, use the plural form of the subject and verb. For example, “the nanoparticles were observed by TEM.” Here, the verb “were” agrees with the plural subject, “the nanoparticles.”
  • Special exception: When discussing a collection of nanoparticles that act as a single unit, the unit can be referred to in the singular. For example, “the nanoparticles were used as a sensor for cancer.” Here, a collection of nanoparticles was used to make a single sensor, so the sensor is referred to as a singular noun.

Absorption vs. adsorption

These two terms are a common source of confusion in all science fields, and their use is particularly tricky in nanoscience writing because many nanostructures display both absorption and adsorption.

  • Absorption refers to a bulk phenomenon, such as the action of a sponge. In absorption, the absorbed substance is distributed uniformly throughout a bulk material. This is a common phenomenon in porous materials. Alternatively, absorption can refer to the absorption of light, such as in UV-visible spectroscopy.
  • Adsorption refers to a physical surface phenomenon in which a substance is adsorbed only to the surface of a material and does not permeate the bulk. This is a common phenomenon in thin films and nanoparticles. Adsorption usually indicates the occurrence of a physical rather than chemical process, such as processes due to Van der Waals forces.

We hope that today's editing tip has clarified several conventions in nanoscience writing. As always, please email us at [email protected] with any comments or questions. AJE wishes you the best in your research and writing!

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