Have you heard of nanotechnology? It's a fascinating new technology that's piqued the interest of many people. It's attracting a lot of investors, too, which may not be so good since many of them don't seem to know what they're doing.

Witness the recent boom in the stock price of Nanometrics (NASDAQ:NANO). Over the past year its stock price has roughly tripled, jumping as much as 10% one day last week. What happened last week? Another company, Nanogen (NASDAQ:NGEN), announced that it had won a nanotechnology patent, and its stock price skyrocketed a whopping 52%. Nanometrics, however, announced no big news that day. It simply appears to have benefited from Nanogen's news because its name begins with N-A-N-O.

Here's the rub: Nanogen is involved in nanotechnology. Nanometrics? Not so much. Some investors seem to be rushing to plunk their money into companies they clearly know little about. That's a big, bad mistake in investing, one that Bill Mann recently warned about.

Nanotechnology is all about building materials and machines -- really, really tiny ones. We're talking not millimeters, but molecules. Here's an explanation from the website of privately held Nanosys, Inc.: "A nanometer is one billionth of a meter, or roughly 75,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair.. At the nanometer-size scale, materials take on dramatically new electronic, optical, magnetic, and interfacial properties." So while Nanogen is indeed involved in miniscule mechanics, Nanometrics is in the business of determining the thickness of silicon chip films -- by more conventional means.

Some other companies involved in nanotechnology (and there are lots of them, many of which are not even publicly traded) include NVE Corp. (NASDAQ:NVEC) and NanophaseTechnologies (NASDAQ:NANX). But keep two important points in mind: 1) This technology is still young, and it's too early to tell which companies will dominate it in the future; and 2) many of these stocks are trading at very high prices due to great expectations, some of which will be proven misplaced.

Another way you might profit from nanotech is to invest in big, proven companies that are investing in it, such as IBM (NYSE:IBM), Lucent Technologies (NYSE:LU), Corning (NYSE:GLW), Alcatel (NYSE:ALA), and AgilentTechnologies (NYSE:A).

Learn more about nanotechnology in this Fool article by Tom Jacobs and in this recent news flash of a $3.7 billion government push for nano-research. Or try reading Nanotechnology: A Gentle Introduction to the Next Big Ideaby Mark A. Ratner and Daniel Ratner.The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson is a fun, fictional romp through nanotechnology.

Also, drop by our Nanotechnology discussion board, where Fools are exploring this neat new field.