A Рerspective on Nanotechnology

1. In his famous speech “There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom in 1959”, Richard Feynman discussed the possibility of manipulating and controlling things on a molecular scale in order to achieve electronic and mechanical systems with atomic sized components. He concluded that the development of technologies to construct such small systems would be interdisciplinary, combining fields such as physics, chemistry and biology, and would offer a new world of possibilities that could radically change the technology around us.

2. A few years later, in 1965, Moore noted that the number of transistors on a chip had roughly doubled every other year since 1959, and predicted that the trend was likely to hold as each new generation of microsystems would help to develop the next generation at lower prices and with smaller components. Up till now, the semiconductor industry has been able to fulfill Moore's Law.

The impact on society and our lives of the continuous downscaling of systems is profound, and continues to open up new frontiers and possibilities. However, no exponential growth can continue forever, and the semiconductor industry will eventually reach the atomic limit for downsizing the transistor.

3. Today, as that limit still seems to be some 20 years in the future, the growth is beginning to take new directions, indicating that the atomic limit might not be the limiting factor for technological development in the future, because systems are becoming more diverse and because new effects appear when the systems become so small that quantum effects dominate. The semiconductor devices show an increased diversification, dividing for instance processors into very different systems such as those for cheap disposable chips, low power consumption portable devices, or high processing power devices. Microfabrication is also merging with other branches of science to include for instance chemical and optical micro systems. In addition, microbiology and biochemistry is becoming important for applications of all the developing methods. This diversity seems to be increasing on all levels in technology and many of these cross-disciplinary developments are linked to nanotechnology.

4. As the components become so small that quantum effects become important, the diversity will probably further increase as completely new devices and possibilities begin to open up that are not possible with the bulk materials of today's technology.

The visions of Feynman are today shared by many others: when nanotechnology is seen as a general cross-disciplinary technology, it has the potential to create a coming "industrial" revolution that will have a major impact on society and everyday life, comparable or exceeding the impact of electricity and information technology.


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