Saturday, March 3, 2007


Nanotechnology is the creation of functional materials, devices and systems through control of matter on the nanometer length scale (1-100 nanometers), and exploitation of novel phenomena and properties (physical, chemical, biological, mechanical, electrical...) at that length scale.

For comparison, 10 nanometers is 1000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. A scientific and technical revolution has just begun based upon the ability to systematically organize and manipulate matter at nanoscale. Payoff is anticipated within the next 10-15 years.

Contributions in the fields of Physics, Biology, and Chemistry have all brought together the information necessary to conceptualize and pursue Nanotechnology. However, it was Richard P. Feynman, later Nobel Prize Winner in Physics, who gave a dinner talk in 1959 for the American Physical Society that seems to have started it all, or at least made the idea tangible.

His speech was entitled "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom" and postulated the idea you could write the entire Encyclopedia Britannica on the head of a pin. This would require text to be text be 1/25000th of its current size. He also talked about somehow manipulating individual atoms, about miniaturizing the computer, and developing better techniques and machinery for viewing these tiniest of details.
He then ended his speech with the announcement of two prizes as incentives for others to go try out what they could accomplish in this realm. One $1000 prize was for an electric motor that could only be 1/64th of an inch cubed. The other was for the first person who could shrink replicate a page of a book at 1/25000th scale so that it could be read by an electron microscope. Both prizes were claimed, in 1960 and 1985, respectively.

It was Eric Drexler who is most accredited with pushing the nanotechnology revolution to where it is today by raising public awareness, educating future researchers, and generally expounding upon the field. He was awarded the first PhD in nanotechnology ever.

Drexler also presented the idea of nanotechnology before a congressional committee in 1992 (Regis, 3).

Drexler has written three books, Molecular Engineering: An approach to the development of general capabilities for molecular manipulation (1981), Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology (1986), and Unbounding the Future: The Nanotechnology Revolution (1991
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