History of nanotechnology

First time in stage

“There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom”, an american physicist Richard Feynman lectured at California institute of technology on December, 1959 at an American Physical Society meeting. In this lecture he particularly spoke about manipulation of the matter at the atomic scale, one key aspect of the nanotechnology. In this lecture he suggested the possibility of making miniature machines and possibility of even writing the whole encyclopedia Britannica on a single pin head. He even promised, a 1000 dollar cash price from his behalf to the first person who overcome each of these challenges. Although it went unnoticed it was picked up again in 1990’s and celebrated as the pivotal event of the field.

Atomic scale manipulation by men

A great leap of nanotechnology made with the invent of scanning tunneling microscope. It was the first instrument that was developed to image the surfaces of material at the atomic level. The development was done at IBM Zurich research laboratory in 1981 by team of scientists including Gred Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer. The invention won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1986. This invention was followed by atomic force microscope in 1986. This enabled scientist to observe things at the atomic scale and led to number of other discoveries like fullerenes, carbon nanotubes, etc.


For the first time, a research team at IBM’s Almaden research center demonstrated that individual atoms can be manipulated to build a manmade structure. They have individually, moved 35 xenon atoms to spell out the IBM logo. The manipulation was carried out using scanning tunneling microscope. IBM scientist discovered that through increasing the probe current between STM tip and the xenon atoms absorbed in to nickel substrate a weak bond can be crated. This bond was used to move atoms to relevant location to create the logo design.

ibm logo

Identification of CNT

The year 1991 marked another important milestone of nanotechnology. Japanese scientist name Sumio Iijima (I am very lucky I had the chance to meet and speak with him in person) who worked for NEC Corporation invented and nanotubes in carbon soot produced from the arc discharge of graphite. He named them as carbon nanotubes and played a leading role in further investigation of CNT’s and popularization of the material. CNT’s showed extraordinary properties in terms of strength, electrical and thermal properties. CNT’s continued to inspire many scientists over the years and found many applications in electronics, photonics, composites, textiles and in biology.

Things that followed

Over the years many techniques, tools and nanoparticles hopped in to the nanotechnology bandwagon. These developments inspired many companies to invest and develop products with nanotechnological constituents. As a result, in early 2000’s first nano products hits the general consumer market. First products that was picked up by the market were silver nanoparticle based antibacterial items. They were followed by self cleaning glasses and tiles. Over the years large number of products with nano particles reached the market.

Many experts in the field are confident that the future of the nanotechnology is very bright. Many also agrees that it would play an enabling role in many other sciences, thus further expanding their territories. However, we still don’t know where it will take us and the future remains as a completely uncharted territory.

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