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Part I
Physical Principles


Chapter 2
Classical Magnitudes and Scaling Laws

2.1. Overview

Most physical magnitudes characterizing nanoscale systems differ enormously from those familiar in macroscale systems. Some of these magnitudes can, however, be estimated by applying scaling laws to the values for macroscale systems. Although later chapters seldom use this approach, it can provide orientation, preliminary estimates, and a means for testing whether answers derived by more sophisticated methods are in fact reasonable.

The first of the following sections considers the role of engineering approximations in more detail (Section 2.2); the rest present scaling relationships based on classical continuum models and discuss how those relationships break down as a consequence of atomic-scale structure, mean-free-path effects, and quantum mechanical effects. Section 2.3 discusses mechanical systems, where many scaling laws are quite accurate on the nanoscale. Section 2.4 discusses electromagnetic systems, where many scaling laws fail dramatically on the nanoscale. Section 2.5 discusses thermal systems, where scaling laws have variable accuracy. Finally, Section 2.6 briefly describes how later chapters go beyond these simple models.

2.2. Approximation and classical continuum models

When used with caution, classical continuum models of nanoscale systems can be of substantial value in design and analysis. They represent the simplest level in a hierarchy of approximations of increasing accuracy, complexity, and difficulty.

Experience teaches the value of approximation in design. A typical design process starts with the generation and preliminary evaluation of many options, then selects a few options for further elaboration and evaluation, and finally settles on a detailed specification and analysis of a single preferred design. The first steps entail little commitment to a particular approach. The ease of exploring and comparing many qualitatively distinct approaches is at a premium, and drastic approximations often suffice to screen out the worst options. Even the final design and analysis does not require an exact calculation of physical behavior: approximations and compensating safety margins suffice. Accordingly, a design process can use different approximations at different stages, moving toward greater analytical accuracy and cost.

Approximation is inescapable because the most accurate physical models are computationally intractable. In macromechanical design, engineers employ approximations based on classical mechanics, neglecting quantum mechanics, the thermal excitation of mechanical motions, and the molecular structure of matter. Since macromechanical engineering blends into nanomechanical engineering with no clear line of demarcation, the approximations of macromechanical engineering offer a point of departure for exploring the nanomechanical realm. In some circumstances, these approximations (with a few adaptations) provide an adequate basis for the design and analysis of nanoscale systems. In a broader range of circumstances, they provide an adequate basis for exploring design options and for conducting a preliminary analysis. In a yet broader range of circumstances, they provide a crude description to which one can compare more sophisticated approximations.

2.3. Scaling of classical mechanical systems

Nanomechanical systems are fundamental to molecular manufacturing and are useful in many of its products and processes. The widespread use in chemistry of molecular mechanics approximations together with the classical equations of motion (Sections 3.3, 4.2.3a) indicates the utility of describing nanoscale mechanical systems in terms of classical mechanics. This section describes scaling laws and magnitudes with the added approximation of continuous media.

2.3.1. Basic assumptions

The following discussion considers mechanical systems, neglecting fields and currents. Like later sections, it examines how different physical magnitudes depend on the size of a system (defined by a length parameter L) if all shape parameters and material properties (e.g., strengths, moduli, densities, coefficients of friction) are held constant.

A description of scaling laws must begin with choices that determine the scaling of dynamical variables. A natural choice is that of constant stress. This implies scale-independent ›elastic deformation, and hence scale-independent shape; since it results in scale-independent speeds, it also implies constancy of the space-time shapes describing the trajectories of moving parts. Some exemplar calculations are provided, based on material properties like those of diamond (Table 9.1): density = 3.5×103 kg /m 3; °Young's modulus E = 1012 N/m2; and a low working stress (~ 0.2 times tensile strength) = 1010 N/m2. This choice of materials often yields large parameter values (for speeds, accelerations, etc.) relative to those characteristic of more familiar engineering materials.

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