Category: NANOTECH


A basic definition: Nanotechnology is the engineering of functional systems at the molecular scale. This covers both current work and concepts that are more advanced.In its original sense, ‘nanotechnology’ refers to the projected ability to construct items from the bottom up, using techniques and tools being developed today to make complete, high performance products. srg-iii-pov-animation2

 With 15,342 atoms, this parallel-shaft speed reducer gear is one of the largest nanomechanical devices ever modeled in atomic detail.

The Meaning of Nanotechnology

0601DrexlerWhen K. Eric Drexler (right) popularized the word ‘nanotechnology’ in the 1980’s, he was talking about building machines on the scale of molecules, a few nanometers wide—motors, robot arms, and even whole computers, far smaller than a cell. Drexler spent the next ten years describing and analyzing these incredible devices, and responding to accusations of science fiction. Meanwhile, mundane technology was developing the ability to build simple structures on a molecular scale. As nanotechnology became an accepted concept, the meaning of the word shifted to encompass the simpler kinds of nanometer-scale technology. The U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative was created to fund this kind of nanotech: their definition includes anything smaller than 100 nanometers with novel properties.

Much of the work being done today that carries the name ‘nanotechnology’ is not nanotechnology in the original meaning of the word. Nanotechnology, in its traditional sense, means building things from the bottom up, with atomic precision. This theoretical capability was envisioned as early as 1959 by the renowned physicist Richard Feynman.

I want to build a billion tiny factories, models of each other, which are manufacturing simultaneously. . .The principles of physics, as far as I can see, do not speak against the possibility of maneuvering things atom by atom. It is not an attempt to violate any laws; it is something, in principle, that can be done; but in practice, it has not been done because we are too big.

Richard Feynman, Nobel Prize winner in physics

Based on Feynman’s vision of miniature factories using nanomachines to build complex products, advanced nanotechnology (sometimes referred to as molecular manufacturing) will make use of positionally-controlled mechanochemistry guided by molecular machine systems. Formulating a roadmap for development of this kind of nanotechnology is now an objective of a broadly based technology roadmap project led by Battelle (the manager of several U.S. National Laboratories) and the Foresight Nanotech Institute.

Shortly after this envisioned molecular machinery is created, it will result in a manufacturing revolution, probably causing severe disruption. It also has serious economic, social, environmental, and military implications

Four Generations

Mihail (Mike) Roco of the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative has described four generations of nanotechnology development (see chart below). The current era, as Roco depicts it, is that of passive nanostructures, materials designed to perform one task. The second phase, which we are just entering, introduces active nanostructures for multitasking; for example, actuators, drug delivery devices, and sensors. The third generation is expected to begin emerging around 2010 and will feature nanosystems with thousands of interacting components. A few years after that, the first integrated nanosystems, functioning (according to Roco) much like a mammalian cell with hierarchical systems within systems, are expected to be developed.


Some experts may still insist that nanotechnology can refer to measurement or visualization at the scale of 1-100 nanometers, but a consensus seems to be forming around the idea (put forward by the NNI’s Mike Roco) that control and restructuring of matter at the nanoscale is a necessary element. CRN’s definition is a bit more precise than that, but as work progresses through the four generations of nanotechnology leading up to molecular nanosystems, which will include molecular manufacturing, we think it will become increasingly obvious that “engineering of functional systems at the molecular scale” is what nanotech is really all about.


How Nanotechnology Works

by and

2007 HowStuffWorks

There’s an unprecedented multidisciplinary convergence of scientists dedicated to the study of a world so small, we can’t see it — even with a light microscope. That world is the field of nanotechnology, the realm of atoms and nanostructures. Nanotechnology i­s so new, no one is really sure what will come of it. Even so, predictions range from the ability to reproduce things like diamonds and food to the world being devoured by self-replicating nanorobots.

In order to understand the unusual world of nanotechnology, we need to get an idea of the units of measure involved. A centimeter is one-hundredth of a meter, a millimeter is one-thousandth of a meter, and a micrometer is one-millionth of a meter, but all of these are still huge compared to the nanoscale. A nanometer (nm) is one-billionth of a meter, smaller than the wavelength of visible light and a hundred-thousandth the width of a human hair

As small as a nanometer is, it’s still large compared to the atomic scale. An atom has a diameter of about 0.1 nm. An atom’s nucleus is much smaller — about 0.00001 nm. Atoms are the building blocks for all matter in our universe. You and everything around you are made of atoms. Nature has perfected the science of manufacturing matter molecularly. For instance, our bodies are assembled in a specific manner from millions of living cells. Cells are nature’s nanomachines. At the atomic scale, elements are at their most basic level. On the nanoscale, we can potentially put these atoms together to make almost anything.

In a lecture called “Small Wonders:The World of Nanoscience,” Nobel Prize winner Dr. Horst Störmer said that the nanoscale is more interesting than the atomic scale because the nanoscale is the first point where we can assemble something — it’s not until we start putting atoms together that we can make anything useful.

In this article, we’ll learn about what nanotechnology means today and what the future of nanotechnology may hold. We’ll also look at the potential risks that come with working at the nanoscale.

In the next section, we’ll learn more about our world on the nanoscale.

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