Fundamental Concepts behind Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology is a new technology which has the potential to change the way we live, interact and communicate on a massive scale.  Never before has there been a technology that has so much potential for the modern world.  The main concept of nanotechnology is the ability to create functional materials, devices and systems through the control of atoms and molecules on an atomic-scale and make these materials more accessible, faster, lighter and more compact.

In nanotechnology creation is achieved by:   (1) Bottom-up method which builds materials and devices from the molecular components that assemble themselves chemically by molecular recognition, automatically arranging into some useful conformation.  (2)  Top-down method which constructs nano-objects from a parent entity without atomic-level control, using lithographic patterning techniques.  The concept of nanotechnology was conceived by James Clerk Maxwell in 1867.  Maxwell was a Scottish physicist in Edinburgh who was instrumental in understanding light, heat, and the behavior of atoms and molecules.  He proposed, as a thought experiment, an atom sized device, known as Maxwell’s Demon, which could trap molecules as they moved in a certain direction under their own motion.  The idea of harnessing this manipulation of particles with specially designed instruments was first vocalized in a speech given by Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman in 1959.  In 1974, Professor Norio Taniguchi of Tokyo, described the process as consolidation or seperation of atoms or molecules in a definition that would coin the word “nanotechnology”.  Then in 1986, Dr. K. Eric Drexler published the first book ever written on the subject called The Engines of Creation, which brought nanotechnology into the forefront of science.

The first nanotechnologists were actually glass workers in medieval forges manipulating nano-scale particles in gold to make the different colors of stained glass found in medieval and Victorian churches.  The ability to manipulate the movement and stopping of particles is the basis for nanotechnology, depending on how close together the molecules are determines the ending color of the finished glass.  Romans and Chinese were using and manipulating nano-particles thousands of years ago, but had no control over the particle size.  Today we can see and manipulate particles on a nano-scale with the understanding of interactions on the atomic scale.

Nanotechnology is already being used in many of the products we buy today, from socks and shirts to lotions, vitamins and cleaners.  This technology has the potential to create pure and clean water, cheap energy, smart computers and appliances, genetically engineered agriculture that is safe and revolutionize the way doctors can treat patients and perform organ transplants.  This technology will enable the shrinking down of machines to the size that they can be inserted into the human body in order to detect and repair diseased cells.  Many companies are already in clinical trials for drug delivery systems based on nanotechnology.  The positive aspects are many and so are the dangers.  Governments have come to realize that there will have to be proper and adequate oversight with risk research and strategy and an increase in public awareness.  The risks to human health, the environment and how it could affect human relation and communication with each other is not known but are possible.