The approach of an anniversary often stimulates self-reflection, and Nature Nanotechnology turns six this month. What we represent to the research community is reflected in our title. But in some ways, our title is a troublesome one. Although it contains the word 'technology', our journal is not strictly focused on that. This will not be news to many of our readers, but it will be to some. We know this because we receive comments, with a low but finite frequency, to the effect that a paper only belongs in this journal if it reports on an application. And to be fair, most of our papers do have an applied perspective.

Our scope, however, also includes topics in pure science, if that science is unique to the nanoscale. In physics, we've published many science papers, from the purely analytical1 to numerical calculations2 to the primarily experimental3. Similarly, in chemistry, we've published basic work in electrocatalysis, like that shown on the cover of this issue4, and DNA methylation5, as well as the synthesis of complex nanostructures (Fig. 1)6, and in biology, foundational work on nanoscale toxicology7,8. To be clear, we are not interested in every category of pure science with some nanoscale aspect — straight protein crystallography work, for example, is usually better suited to one of the many journals on that subject, rather than a broad journal like ours. But we certainly do not limit ourselves to applied results.

Figure 1: 'A rose by any other name would smell as sweet'.
figure 1

False-coloured scanning electron microscopy image of hybrid protein–inorganic nanoflowers6.

So why then do we call ourselves a 'nanotechnology' journal? The answer is in part a historical fluke. 'Nature Nanoscience and Nanotechnology' was among one of the titles originally considered for this journal, which would have reflected our scope more accurately, but it was deemed to be too long. Ultimately we are — like all other Nature titles — interested in the highest-impact work, and are therefore agnostic about the pure/applied divide. We want the best of each and to have both types of papers appeal to both communities. In this sense, we recognize that we have leaned more towards applied work, and have some work to do to address the balance. But we do not want our title to prove an obstacle.

Other journals, like Nano Letters and ACS Nano, avoid the pure/applied debate altogether by using just the abbreviation 'nano' — we note that 'Nature Nano' is often used when mentioning our journal in conversations and e-mails. Small is presumably interested in anything, well, small (although it is noted that most of its papers are nanotech related). Institutions use an even broader terminology: the Braun Center for Submicron Research at Weizmann, for example, avoids the applied versus pure debate. Some institutions in Japan and in the US call themselves centres for nanoarchitectonics, which seems a very specific, even arcane, term, although in fact it refers to fabrication procedures that are at the heart of the field of nanoscience and nanotechnology. Then there are centres for nanoanalytics, microtechnologies, molecular physics and so on.

There are clearly a lot of names for that thing it is we study. But at the same time we have an intuitive sense for what we do, and are usually not too bothered by definitional questions. The variety of names reflects the interdisciplinary and borderless nature of the field, which are two of its great strengths. And, just as divisions between biology and physics melt in the nano-stirring pot, so do those between the pure and applied. Most of the science published in this journal does impact on application.

Of course, it might be argued there is an impact on application for most basic science. But this connection is particularly strong at the nanoscale, which is in some sense the final applications frontier, as building a device at smaller scales is unlikely for the foreseeable future. At the nanoscale, new phenomena invariably suggest new technologies, and these, in turn, open the door to observing new phenomena.

And anyway, a publication is not necessarily constrained by its title. Nature Materials, for example, has published many excellent papers whose chief innovation is not in a material. Analogous arguments apply to general publications like The Economist or The Wall Street Journal. The important feature of each of these is not their title, but the audience they reach.

Nature Nanotechnology delivers to a uniquely broad audience. According to ISI, there are 38 different subject categories in which Nature Nanotechnology has garnered 100 or more citations since it was launched in 2006. By comparison, the figure for Physical Review Letters is 21 categories (corrected for overall citation volumes). We publish healthy amounts of chemistry, materials, biology, physics and engineering papers; and each subject is represented in the editors' collective backgrounds. Moreover, of those 38 subject categories, only 9 are explicitly applied — like 'biomedical engineering' — and another 5 are explicitly multidisciplinary. The remaining 24 are fields like 'optics' or 'electrochemistry', which span the pure/applied divide.

Are we then an applied or a pure science journal? The only reasonable answer is that we are both.