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Friday, 20 April 2012

The Origins of Nanotechnology

It is not easy today to answer to the question "Where did nanotechnology come from?" The answer to this question is complex and requires necessarily be viewed in a historical perspective. However, the origin of nanotechnology converges always to three coordinates: Richard Phillips Feynman, December 29th, 1959 and "There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom".

Where did nanotechnology come from? To answer to that question in not easy and encompasses some uncertainties. However, I will try to do my best.

Firstly, I will present some definitions that I consider appropriate and timely, before any further reading.


Follows the definition of nanotechnology, according to the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI):

"Nanotechnology is the understanding and control of matter at the nanoscale, at dimensions between approximately 1 and 100 nanometers, where unique phenomena enable novel applications."

Follows the definition of nanoscience, also according to the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI):

Nanoscience is "the study of unique properties of matter at the nanoscale; an interdisciplinary field of science combining physics, materials science, the chemistry of complex molecules, and related disciplines."

Thus, while nanoscience studies the properties of matter at nanoscale, nanotechnology encompasses the understanding and control of matter at nanoscale.

Nanoscience has a nature of pure science. On the other hand, nanotechnology has a nature of applied science or applied technology.

It makes sense to say that nanocience, in a first instance, provides scientific knowledge to be used and applied by nanotechnology.

The Interdisciplinary of Nanotechnology - at First Glance

According to the definition of nanoscience presented above, nanoscience is "an interdisciplinary field of science combining physics, materials science, the chemistry of complex molecules, and related disciplines".

In fact, in a first analysis, nanoscience stands on scientific concepts and knowledge of:

  • Physics;
  • Materials science;
  • Chemistry of complex molecules;
  • And related disciplines.

"There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom"

Richard Phillips Feynman (May 11, 1918 – February 15, 1988), an 
American physicist, is considered the father of nanotechnology.

The scientific work of Richard P. Feynman
encompassed several topics such as:
  • The path integral formulation of quantum mechanics;
  • The theory of quantum electrodynamics;
  • The physics of the superfluidity of supercooled liquid helium;
  • The proposal of the parton model, in particle physics.
The Nobel Prize in Physics 1965 was awarded jointly to Sin-Itiro TomonagaJulian Schwinger and Richard P. Feynman "for their fundamental work in quantum electrodynamics, with deep-ploughing consequences for the physics of elementary particles".

Feynman held the Richard Chace Tolman professorship in theoretical physics at the California Institute of Technology (CalTech).

Feynman was the pioneer in the field of quantum computing.

Feynman introduced for the first time the concept of nanotechnology.

Richard P. Feynman became much popular not only on the physics community but also on the whole scientific community due (among several works) to his classic and famous talk (also designated lecture) on December 29th, 1959 at the annual meeting of the American Physical Society at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech)called "There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom".

During this lecture, Feyn
man considered the possibility of direct manipulation of individual atoms as a more capable technology for synthetic chemistry than the technology used at the time.

In other words, Feynman talked about the concept of nanofabrication and the bottom-up approach.

Decades later, this talk inspired the conceptual beginning of nanoscience and nano
technology. In other words, Feynman sowed the seeds of nanoscience and nanotechnology and only decades later these seeds gave the first fruits. In fact, there are moments in the history of science that determine its future. This talk was certainly one of them. In my personal opinion, this momentum marked the future, not only of science and technology, but of our civilization.

This apparently simple timeline of decades represents decades of hard work from scientists. And it will represent even more hard work in the future decades.

    The Following Decades

    On the early days, the only players engaged into the development of nanoscience and nanotechnology were practically scientists, editors, publishers and organizations that allocate funds for research projects.

    With the advance of R&D in nanoscience and nanotechnology, a whole and wide range of new emerging actors came on the scene:
    • Innovators and innovation managers;
    • Industries;
    • Investors and shareholders;
    • Science parks and technological parks;
    • Regulators and regulatory organizations;
    • Lecturers;
    • Event organizers;
    • Educational programs;
    • Discussion groups;
    • Movements involved in ethical issues;
    • Movements involved in discussions of philosophical nature;
    • And many more.
    With the passage of time and the emergence and popularization of Internet, nanocience and nanotechnology began to be the target of media attention. Gradually began the hype and buzz. And gradually, the hype and buzz gave place to overhype and overbuzz.

    Since there wasn't regulation yet, the overhype and overbuzz generated suspicions and unfounded conspiracy theories.

    At the same time, nanoscience continued to develop and gave a tremendous input to nanotechnology, which also witnessed an enormous development.

    Finally, in recent years, regulatory organizations have begun to develop regulatory work. Currently, some regulatory organizations are already working at full speed.

    The Transversality of Nanotechnology

    During these decades, with the development of nanoscience and nanotechnology, scientists have realized that nanotechnology had almost infinite potential applications.

    Nanotechnology is, due to its vast and wide spectrum of applications, transversal by nature. Is not an abuse of language stating that nanotechnology will have in the future, applications in practically all sectors and fields of our daily life:
    • From new alternative, more efficient and profitable, more affordable and cleaner energy resources to disruptive, more targeted, more efficient, less evasive and more affordable drug delivery systems (DDS) and pharmaceuticals;
    • From intelligent and functional, self-cleaning, interactive and custom on demand textiles to more precocious, sensitive, accurate, capable of high throughput, more affordable technologies of diagnostics, disease detection and medical imaging;
    • From faster processing speed, higher capacity, more capable and more affordable computing systems to highly innovative and incredible techniques in tissue and organ repair and regenerative medicine in general, helped by tissue engineering.
    There is a whole entire, almost unlimited (or unlimited even) range of applications of nanotechnology in our daily lifes. Some of them are already a reality today. Nevertheless, the most part is yet to come. The promises of a better life are tremendously great. So the governments and politicians have the capacity, willingness, good sense and sense of responsibility to make it possible.

    The Interdisciplinary of Nanotechnology - a More Detailed View

    Since the works of Richard Phillips Feynman, nanoscience and nanotechnology were subjects of intensive development and enlisted the help of many fields of science and technology, which in the meantime also developed intensively.

    Consequently, the interdisciplinary nature of nanotechnology has grown immensely. Follow just some examples 
    of fields of science and technology that, over the last decades, also arrived on the scene contributing to the development of nanotechnology:
    • Chemistry;
    • Chemistry of colloids;
    • Biochemistry;
    • Molecular Biology;
    • Neuroscience;
    • Biology;
    • Photonics;
    • Metamaterials;
    • Quantum Physics;
    • Mathematics;
    • Computational science, high performance computing, cloud computing, computational biology, bioinformatics and cheminformatics.

    Final Comments

    Science and technology have no frontiers. These frontiers are in the Human mind. Therefore, nanotechnology, transversal by nature, stands strongly on interdisciplinary and integration of science & technology.

    Therefore, it is not easy today to answer to the question "Where did nanotechnology come from?" The answer is complex and requires necessarily be viewed in a historical perspective.

    However, whatever the variables in the equation, the origin of nanotechnology converges always to three coordinates:

    • One name: Richard Phillips Feynman;
    • One day: December 29th, 1959;
    • One lecture: "There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom"


    Regarding the definitions of nanoscience and nanotechnology, according to the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI):

    I used as source the followin
    g NNI URLs:

    Regarding Richard Phillips Feynman, his work and his famous lecture "There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom", I use Wikipedia as source.
    Regarding the The Nobel Prize in Physics 1965, I used the following source:

    "The Nobel Prize in Physics 1965". 16 Apr 2012

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