As we've said before, ask 100 people to define nanotechnology and you'll get 11 different answers: 90 people will say "I don't know anything about it", and the other ten will give you varying definitions.
At CRN, we have been using this definition: Nanotechnology is the projected ability to make things from the bottom up, using techniques and tools that are being developed today to place every atom and molecule in a desired place.
That's not very precise (or concise), but it gives a layperson the basic idea.
On the Civen website, mentioned in our previous post, they provide this simple definition: Nanotechnology is the art of manipulating matter at the atomic length scale to create new materials, devices and systems.
Not too bad, but it's pretty vague.
Recently, I came across the best short definition I've ever seen. It was in a paper [PDF] written a few years ago by Albert Tsai for the University of Southern California's Technology Commercialization Alliance. He said: Nanotechnology is the engineering of tiny machines.
Beautiful. Perfect. That says it all in a nutshell. If it doesn't involve engineering and machines -- that is, if it's just dealing with materials -- then it's not nanotech. Instead, it's what we call nanoscale technologies.
The phrase "tiny machines" also could mean microscale, of course, and not just nanoscale. But that's okay, because the machines that first are engineered at the nanoscale eventually will be programmed to build larger machines, all the way up to macroscale nanofactories.
So I think this definition is just right: Nanotechnology is the engineering of tiny machines. And I think everyone should begin using it, starting with the NNI, where they really need something better than this absurdly broad description.