Nanotechnology: The View In to a Very Small World


The View In to a Very Small World

“There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom”, the name of a lecture given by physicist Richard Feynman, in December of 1958, where he stated, “It is a staggeringly small world that is below. In the year 2000, when they look back at this age, they will wonder why it was not until the year 1960 that anybody began seriously to move in this direction.” Further into Feynman’s lecture he puzzled over chemistry issues; of being able to “make an analysis of any complicated chemical substance”, saying that all one needed to do was look at it and observe where the atoms were. He then pointed out the problem, that the electron microscope, of the time, was 100 times too weak; later he challenged: “Is there no way to make the electron microscope more powerful?” More than 10 years later; during his quest into ultra-precision machining, Professor Norio Taniguchi named this science of all things small, nanotechnology. It would be another decade before individual atoms would actually be “seen”, with the newly developed scanning tunneling microscope in 1981; nanotechnology actually began.

Feynman also discussed computers and the fact that, at that time, computers filled rooms. He was proposing the possibilities of smaller computers, much smaller computers. While we haven’t gone to nano-size quite yet, the progress that has been made in that direction is quite remarkable. After all, are the smart phones of today not hand-held computers, so to speak? At the end of Feynman’s lecture (1958) he issued a challenge, “I hereby offer a $1000 to the first guy who can take the information on the page of a book and put it on an area 1/2500 smaller in linear size and in such a manner that it can be read by an electron microscope.” He then offered another $1000 prize to “the guy who makes an operating electric motor, a rotating electric motor which can be controlled from the outside and not counting the lead-in wires, is only 1/64 inch cube. I do not expect that such prizes will have to wait very long for claimants” (Feynman, 1992).

Over 50 years later, the small world of nanotechnology is no longer so small, with personal computers and smart phones the miniaturized world that Feynman was so fond of is now a reality. This reality has gone well beyond the electron microscope he complained as being weak and is seemingly antique in comparison to the scanning tunneling microscope (STM), the atomic force microscope (AFM), and the transmission electron microscope (TEM) (Smallwood, 2009). While the ethical questions as to its application remain tenuous, students at UC Berkeley have built a nano motor, another of Feynman’s musings. As for the $1000 challenges Feynman extended, the 1/64th scale motor was built in 1961, with Feynman handing the winner, William McClelland his prize. The motor weighed 250 micrograms with one millionth of a horsepower. It wouldn’t be until 1986, when Feynman’s first 1/2500 scale writing was completed by Tom Newman, with the first page of “A Tale of Two Cities” (Feynman, 1959).  Considering the amount of information that a 32 GB thumb-drive holds, even Newman must be shaking his head at the advances since his 1/2500th scale achievement.

So what does all this small stuff mean in terms of today? Nanotechnology has many applications, from high powered microscopes, miniature motors, and information storage, to everyday consumer use products, medical applications, environmental improvements, and viable energy options.  What may surprise many people is nanotechnology has already been on their hands and faces, in their mouths, and for many, is being ingested.  At the 4TH Central and Eastern Europe regional meeting on Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) and United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), (Lodz, Poland, 27-29 June 2011), the uses of nanotechnology were discussed. Many of those uses include health and beauty aids, like face cream, sun screens and dental resins. Nanotechnology is used to make hearing aids, contact lenses, body wash and shampoos, bandages, energy drinks, drug delivery patches, and man-made skin. An especially advanced bandage called “Nanosilver Wound Dressing” is registered with the EPA as a “Tox Category IV disinfectant, being used on Navy submarines, cruise liners, airplanes and medical facilities to treat burn victims (Soldatenko, 2011). The uses of disinfectant delivery methods such as this were studied in a report published in Environmental Health Perspectives (2010). The report concluded that the use of nanotechnologies, in instances of this manner show no recognizable ill effects; although, research is still ongoing (Cooney, 2010). Such applications were also discussed in a Mayo Clinic report about skin regeneration and researchers are discovering “advances in control-release systems, nanotopography, biomechanics, materials science, and stem cell biology will enable researchers to design increasingly sophisticated engineered skin grafts with the potential to treat acute or chronic wounds” (Wong, Gurtner, & Longaker, 2013).

Soldatenko (2011) points out environmental applications of nanotechnology in waste management programs, by the development of viable nanofiltration systems used in water and air purification, reducing pollution, removing excess salts, heavy metals, and bacteria. Gold nanoparticles in air filters are used to remove toxic organisms and bacteria from the air. In another instance, the oil industry has developed “MCM-41 (known also as “self-assembled monolayers on mesoporous supports,” SAMMS), with pore sizes in the range of 10-100 nanometers is used for the removal of ultrafine contaminants, and a nanoparticle-reinforced polymeric material can replace structural metallic components in automobiles and lead to a reduction of 1.5 billion liters of gasoline consumption over the life of one year’s production of vehicles, thereby reducing carbon dioxide emissions annually by more than 5 billion kilograms” (Soldatenko, 2011).

An area of grave importance is energy consumption and the world’s dependence on petroleum for fuel and power sources. To address these growing concerns, projects such as “Caltech and Berkeley’s Joint Center on Artificial Photosynthesis, the Solar H2 network based at Uppsala University, the Solar Fuels Initiative (SOFI) based at North Western University, and Dan Nocera’s work at MIT and Harvard” (Faunce, 2013) is continuing the pursuit of solar energy through nanotechnology.  Consumers rely on the “short-term benefits” of fossil fuels such as natural gas, coal, and oil and the companies that manufacture and process these fuels rely on subsidies to keep prices competitive; yet they continue to encroach on the forward movement of solar technology. Despite the efforts to delay the technology, advancements continue to prove that artificial photosynthesis provides an inexpensive source of hydrogen fuel, oxygen, carbon-dioxide absorption, and soil nutrition (Faunce, 2013).

Synthetic biology provides for substantial advancement within three segments of nanotechnology and photosynthesis: light capture, water splitting (catalysis), and carbon dioxide reduction. Light capture is the development of nanostructured materials (synthetic organisms) that absorb photons on a broader solar spectrum, increasing the available absorption rate of the surface area in comparison to current surface rates.  Catalysis: as a fundamental characteristic of photosynthesis, the protein recognized as photosystem II, splits water into hydrogen and oxygen and new research now focuses on creating artificial water splitting catalysts (presently aimed at manganese, nickel, cobalt, and doped iron-oxide) which have an extended time frame to be regenerated from materials that are inexpensive and easily attained. The final segment, carbon dioxide reduction, is a significant effort being undertaken by researchers trying to re-create photosynthesis’ ability to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide; it is also one of the most important, considering the current levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (Faunce, 2013).

Given the continuing advancements mentioned herein and those yet to be attained, a degree of caution must be maintained. While it is the hope that the future of nanotechnology and nanosciences is a path aimed at securing a safer, cleaner, and more viable future, it is necessary to be realistic in the fact that not all technologies will be used for the betterment of society as a whole. Power and greed are realities that, regardless of the era, are the nature of those who wish to corrupt instead of embrace the positive possibilities that these sciences can achieve. Worldwide regulation and standards will need to be applied and upheld; however, whether they are followed will always be at question. It will remain, as always, up to those who hold the future of this world in the utmost importance, to be sure that future endeavors be done with thoughtful foresight of that future.


Cooney, C. (2010). Triclosan comes under scrutiny. Environmental Health Perspectives 118(6), A242. Retrieved from

Faunce, T. (2013). Powering the world with artificial photosynthesis. The Futurist, 47(3), 6-8. Retrieved from

Feynman, R. (1992). There’s plenty of room at the bottom. In Journal of Microelectromechanical Systems, 1(1), 60-66. Reprinted from Miniturization. Horace D. Bilbert, Ed.  Retrieved from

Smallwood, C. (2009). 50 years later, still plenty of room at the bottom. Quest: The Science of Sustainability. Retrieved from

Soldatenko, A. (2011). Current uses of nanotechnology. University of Strasbourg. Retrieved from

United States National Nanotechnology Initiative. (n.d.). What is nanotechnology? Nanotechnology 101.  Retrieved from

Wong, V., Gurtner, G., & Longaker, M. (2013). Wound Healing: A Paradigm for Regeneration. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 88(9), 1022-31. Retrieved from

Total:  A 100/100

Hi Kriss,

Thank you for submitting your assignment this week. The papers will continue to get longer and more involved, especially with topics that may not be familiar to you. Nanotechnology is a huge area of science that explores the smallest particles of matter. You did a great job discussing the future applications of nanotechnology and providing three examples of real world applications currently in use or being developed. You also did a nice job citing sources and creating an original paper. Your work is well done and I continue to look forward to the next intriguing paper.


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