Nanotechnology: The Incredible Invisible World: With Emphasis on Environmental Issues, Health Care, and Business/ Industry Accomplishments, This Article Will Provide Insight into Some of the Potential of the Field of Nanotechnology

By Roberts, Amanda S. | Technology and Engineering Teacher, March 2011 | Go to article overview

Nanotechnology: The Incredible Invisible World: With Emphasis on Environmental Issues, Health Care, and Business/ Industry Accomplishments, This Article Will Provide Insight into Some of the Potential of the Field of Nanotechnology


Roberts, Amanda S., Technology and Engineering Teacher


As we look at inventions and discoveries throughout the ages, we can see that many of them have had incredible impacts on science, engineering, and technology and the way that we live and work. Inventions such as the plow changed they way that food was grown and produced. The invention of the steam engine changed the way that we traveled and moved goods and services. We can see that the invention of the telegraph, telephone, radio, and television have made our world smaller in the way that we communicate with each other and others in distant lands. More recently, the invention of the satellite and the mobile phone have enabled individuals to be in touch globally in real time. The invention of the telescope has been heralded as one of the great inventions of the seventeenth century, as it enabled humans to see into the depths of our solar system and what others had not seen before. Galileo Galilei made the telescope famous. He assembled a 20-power telescope and made observations about Earth's Moon. He discovered the four satellites of the planet Jupiter and resolved nebular ways into stars. Subsequently he published Sidereus Nuncius in March 1610, which is noted as the first scientific treatise on observations made through a telescope (Galileo Project, 2003).

Another invention that we learn about in elementary school is the invention of the microscope. Imagine the world that the microscope opened up to scientists and researchers in those early years. We generally know that the telescope and microscope are optical devices that are based on the properties of lenses to magnify an image or view. However, we give little thought to the fact that the discovery of glass played a significant role in these and other optical inventions. Nearly every field of science has benefitted in some manner from the invention of the microscope. The invention of the microscope dates back to the sixteenth century and a Dutch eyeglass maker named Zacharias Janssen. Janssen's work would have an impact on scientific discoveries in the centuries to come (Chodos, 2011).

However, the invention of the electron microscope would move science from the microscopic world of optical instruments to the world of atoms! James Hiller and Albert Prebus, graduate students at the University of Ontario, would build the first practical electron microscope that enabled scientists to see objects not by magnification and light shining through a specimen, but rather by focusing a beam of electrons through a specimen. Hiller would later accept a job at the Radio Corporation of America where he worked with a team to develop the first commercial electron microscope. The invention of the electron microscope enabled scientists to see molecular structures and manipulate atoms that would eventually lead to the field of nanotechnology (MIT, 2003).

The concept of nanotechnology was first introduced in 1959 by Richard Feynman at a meeting of the American Physical Society. His speech, entitled There is Plenty of Room at the Bottom, postulated that there was merit to the idea of building from the "bottom up" through the use of atoms as the building blocks (Klusek, 2007; Lindquist, Mosher-Howe, & Liu, 2010). Thirty years later, Drexler further developed Feynman's concepts of nanotechnology by defining the way small and large structures could be built atom by atom or molecule by molecule using nanorobots (nanobots) as assemblers and replicators. In 2000, nanotechnology entered into U.S. public policy through the National Nanotechnology Initiative (Klusek, 2007; Lindquist, Mosher-Howe, & Liu, 2010), demonstrating it was a research priority for the United States. In 2005, there was a request for roughly $1 billion dollars for federal research across a wide range of federal agencies (Porod, 2004). Today nanotechnology is an emerging technology globally in which the United States currently demonstrates a healthy investment. According to Ernst (2009, p. 1), "the National Academies (2006) indicated that 33 percent of all nanotechnology patents awarded from 1990 to 2004 were granted to researchers in the United States. …

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