What is Nanotechnology?
Harry Kroto (top) and Richard Smalley (bottom).
Webster's Dictionary defines nanotechnology as the science of manipulating materials on an atomic or molecular scale especially to build microscopic devices (as robots). While accurate, Webster's definition tells only part of the story. Without microscopy, and more specifically, electron- and ion-beam microscopes, nanotechnology would not be possible.
The father of nanotechnology, Richard Smalley, was a Nobel Prize-winning chemist who co-created the miniature spheres of carbon called buckyballs. His work spanned nearly four decades before he passed away in October of 2005. Smalley's early research in physical chemistry focused on the inorganic and semiconductor clusters using pulsed molecular beams and time of flight mass spectrometry. Later, Smalley and Harry Kroto teamed to research the constituents of astronomical dust, which led to the discovery of C60 and the fullerenes as the third allotropic form of carbon.
While there is some debate and skepticism surrounding nanotechnology, many scientists and researchers believe that there's as much to learn through the scientific exploration of "inner space" as there is outer space. Today, groundbreaking research is taking place in research institutions and nanotechnology centers across the globe in the United States, Mexico, Germany, The Netherlands, United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, China, Japan, and others. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the United States, for example, has established the Nanotechnology Characterization Laboratory (NCL), which performs and standardizes the pre-clinical characterization of nanomaterials intended for cancer therapeutics and diagnostics developed by researchers from academia, government, and industry. The King Abdullah Institute for Nanotechnology in Saudi Arabia is one of the largest nanotechnology research centers in the world, bringing together scientists and researchers to develop academic programs related to nanoscience and technology, build the infrastructure needed for research and development in nanoscience and technology, and support nano research and projects in various universities and colleges worldwide. The Eindhoven University of Technology Micro- and Nano-Scale Engineering group, established in 2004, focuses their research on non-silicon-based systems (like polymer and glass MEMS, non-lithographic approaches), as well as micro- and nano-fabrication, micro-fluidics, sensors and actuators and system integration.
Nanotechnology is helping to redefine how we live. Advances in solar technologies through nanotechnology are making it possible to bring reliable power to remote regions, and reduce global reliance on carbon- and fossil-based fuels. Electronic devices have become so small thanks to nanotechnology that it's now possible to carry a computer in your pocket as powerful as the computers that powered the early Apollo space missions. And in medicine, nanotechnology is enabling nanoparticulate drug delivery, a more efficient and effective means of delivering medicine to affected areas throughout the human body.
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