Nanotechnology: History

Nanotechnology is the study of materials at the nano scale. The nano scale is defined as one billionth of a meter, or 10-9. The symbol for the nano is nm. So? So materials do not exhibit the same characteristics at the nano level as they do at the conventional level. This opens up a whole new range of possibilities for those working in the fields of engineering and medicine, to name a few.

The capability to magnify objects by a factor of up to one million was made possible with the invention of the first transmission electron microscope (TEM) by German scientists Ernst Ruska and Max Knoll in 1931.With the TEM, it was finally possible to view things at the molecular level. Studies were made of the proteins that make up the human body. Metals were also studied. The TEM made all of this possible by focusing a beam of electrons to pass through an object, rather than by focusing light on the object as was done with traditional microscopes. Particles smaller than 200 nm were able to be viewed.

Richard Feynman

Feynman gave his talk, There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom, in 1959. He asked his audience to imagine what it would be like to control materials on the atomic scale. His reputation as  a Nobel Prize winning American theoretical physicist brought greater attention to the potential use of such atomic level structures.

Professor Norio Taniguchi

1970 brought the term “nano-technology” in a paper written by Professor Norio Taniguchi of Tokyo Science University . His vision of nanomaterials was for use in the manufacturing process. The term was not widely used until the 1980’s when the scanning tunneling microscope (STM) led to the discovery of fullerenes in 1986. These molecules are made up of carbon atoms that make a soccer ball shape of hexagons and pentagons on the surface. Also known as buckyballs, they’re named after Buckminster Fuller, the creator of the geodesic dome. A few years later, the carbon nanotube – molecules made up of carbon atoms arranged in hexagonal patterns on the surface of cylinders – was discovered.

Dr. Eric Drexler

1986 also saw the publication of a seminal work by MIT professor Dr. Eric Drexler. In Engines of Creation, Drexler used the term “nanotechnology” to describe the process that is now molecular nanotechnology. Drexler looked at the positive and negative possibilities that would come with the ability to manipulate matter at the atomic level.

US National NANO Initiative

The United States National Nanotechnology Initiative was founded in 2000 with a mandate to coordinate federal research and development in nanotechnology. Growth in the creation of nanoparticles followed as researchers and industry explored the possible application of nano particles to engineering and medicine.

Related Posts:
Nanotechnology: Why Bother?
Nanotechnology: Richard Feynman
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