"The coming years will bring the greatest turning point in the history of life on Earth. To guide life and civilisation through this transition is the great task of our time.".
- K. Eric Drexler, "Engines of Creation".
Nanotechnology: The coming ability to build materials and products with atomic precision. .
All manufactured products and living creatures are built from atoms. The properties of these products depend on how those atoms are arranged. If we rearrange the atoms in coal we can make diamond. If we rearrange the atoms in sand (and add a few other trace elements) we can make computer chips. If we rearrange the atoms in dirt, water and air we can make potatoes. .
Throughout history, humans have always created things by moving vast quantities of molecules around. Even in our most precise fabrications, our manipulation of molecules has been in bulk, carving or moulding or shaving away trillions of atoms at a time. .
Ralph Merkle from Xerox PARC provides an interesting analogy: "Its like trying to make things out of LEGO blocks with boxing gloves on your hands. Yes, you can push the LEGO blocks into great heaps and pile them up, but you can't really snap them together the way you'd like".
This method, for all that it has provided us, is - atomically speaking - terribly crude and clumsy, and if nanotechnologists have their way, will be perfectly obsolete in the not-too-distant future. .
In the future, nanotechnology will let us take off the boxing gloves. We'll be able to snap together the fundamental building blocks of nature easily, inexpensively and in almost any arrangement that we desire. This will be essential if we are to continue the revolution in computer hardware beyond the next decade, and will also let us fabricate an entire new generation of products that are cleaner, stronger, lighter, and more precise. .
What is Nanotechnology?.
The prefix "nano" means ten to the minus ninth power, or one billionth, so that a nanometer is one billionth of a meter.