Nanotechnology in Chemistry

Essay by kaaanch October 2009

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Nanotechnology is a young concept. Its short history spans 49 years year from 1959 when Richard Feynman gave a dinner speech describing molecular machines building with atomic precision. The term nanotechnology actually didn’t appear until Norio Taniguchi used it fifteen years later in 1974 in a paper on ion-sputter machining. These ideas began to become technically possible in 1981 when with the recently invented scanning tunnelling microscope (STM) allowed materials to be seem at the atomic level. The STM was invented by Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohder, and won them the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1986.

In 1985 another key break through was made by Robert Curl, Harold Kroto, and Richard Smalley from the University of Sussex and Rice University when they discovered the fullerenes. Fullerenes are molecules composed fully of carbon which come in the form of a hollow sphere (buckyballs), ellipsoid or tube (buckytubes or carbon nanotubes).

Buckytubes are a strong example of the power of nanotechnology; their distinctive molecular structure gives them amazing properties: high resistance to heat; high ductility; high tensile strength; high electrical conductivity.

In 1988 the first nanotechnology university course was taught by Eric Drexler at Stanford University. Just one year later, in 1989, the IBM logo was spelled in individual atoms using the STM like a pair of tweezers to move individual atoms. 1990 saw the first major funding of research into nanotechnology by Japan’s Science and Technology Agency. In 1991 the bottom-up approach was endorsed by Japan’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry. 1992 produced the first published nanotechnology textbook (Nanosystems: Molecular Machinery, Manufacturing, and Computation by Eric Drexler) and the first congressional testimony on nanotech. The push for nanotechnology was increasing and in 1994 the U.S. science advisor advocated continued development of nanotechnology. In 1995 the Hughes Aircraft Company predicted...