Position your magnifying glass on the topic of nanotechnology, which describes technologies involving very, very small parts—perhaps measuring just a few atomic diameters, or a millionth of a millimeter. The general goal of nanotechnology research programs is to reduce complex and sophisticated machinery into very small operational units.
Nanotechnology involves the development of techniques to build machines from atoms and molecules. The name comes from nanometer, which is a length equal to one-billionth of a meter. It involves the development of new electrical devices that depend on quantum effects that arise when the dimension of a structure is only a few atoms across. Because the techniques best suited for fabricating devices on the submicron scale originated in semiconductor processing technology for the production of integrated circuits, nanoscale devices are all based on semiconductors.
Nanotechnology is a relatively new field, first conceptualized by K. Eric Drexler in 1971. The doorway to nanotechnology was opened in 1985 when Richard Errett Smalley produced a third form of carbon, named the “buckyball,” that led to the creation of long cylindrical strings of buckyballs called buckytubes or nanotubes. Many scientists think nanotubes are a fundamental unit for building countless other nanodevices. Nanotubes can be flexed and woven; for example, nanotubes are being woven into experimental fibers for use in ultralight bulletproof vests. Nanotubes are also perfect conductors, and they may be used to construct atomically precise electronic circuitry for more advanced computers and flat-panel displays. They’re important to the emerging field of molecular nanotechnology (MNT).