How it all began
Turning a vision into reality
The origins of nanotechnology are often dated back to the year 1959, when the American physicist and Nobel Prize laureate Richard Feynman gave a now-famous lecture at the University of California Berkeley entitled “There`s plenty of room at the bottom” in which he described how matter might be manipulated and controlled at its tiniest dimensions. In 1974, the term nanotechnology was coined by the Japanese Norio Taniguchi, who described the revolutionary uses of materials in ultra-small dimensions of less than one billionth of a meter. The practical means, however, did not yet exist to experiment with his vision. That didn’t change until two decades later when Heinrich Rohrer and Gerd Binnig, at an IBM laboratory near Zurich, Switzerland, invented the scanning tunnel microscope, which enabled surfaces to be imaged at the atomic level. The next big breakthrough came in 1990, when scientists were able to not only see atoms but actually position them, famously arranging 35 xenon atoms on a surface to spell “IBM”. By the end of the 1990s, nanotechnology was rapidly beginning to attract attention not only from corporations but also from major governments, with a number of these launching broad initiatives to encourage what was increasingly being recognized as a transformational technology.
The tip of the iceberg
Despite the many commercially successful nanotech-based products on the market today, in some cases changing the competitive basis of entire industries, what we have seen so far is just the tip of the iceberg. This is true especially for research intensive industries such as the medical or pharmaceutical sector. Despite many fascinating possibilities - which a few years ago seemed to be completely unimaginable - there is still an endless pipeline of novel technologies and products. The work done by scientists around the world in both industry and academia – involving experimentation, computer simulation and theoretical research – is just the foundation for what will later become a mature commercial product or process. And some of these will transform markets or even our daily lives, providing new answers to major global problems.