Nanotechnology is a relatively new technology that is somewhat similar to quantum mechanics. Nanotechnology focuses on the study and manipulation of matter on the atomic and molecular levels. Richard Feynman is recognized as the person who constructed the foundations for the study of nanotechnology in his lecture, “There is Plenty of Room at the Bottom.” At first, this new discipline is extremely hard to comprehend and visualize, as it deals with miniscule objects that the naked eye is unable to see. To convey a sense of what nanotechnology entails, Nobel Laureate Sir Harry Kroto once made an analogy saying that the nanometer is like a human head in comparison to the planet if the planet were the size of a human head.

Even beginning to think on such a scale is a hard obstacle to overcome. The average thickness of human hair is about 5×10-5 m, which is about as small a thing that the naked eye will ever see. A nanometer is 1×10-9 m. The little fingernail, which is roughly 1 cm wide, is equivalent to ten million nanometers. These comparisons give a sense of what nanotechnology is dealing with. When science is taken to this level of precision, human rationality becomes less relevant and imagination begins to play a larger role. That is why there have been many fantasies and fears associated with the development of nanotechnology. The dream is of immortality and power and the fear is of mind control.

I think that I, for one, would certainly be unable to visualize, let alone comprehend, concepts on such a small scale. I suppose that this is to be expected; even my high school physics teacher commented on the confounding nature of nanotechnology. He prepared a small and general presentation to expand on course topics, and this presentation happened to touch upon nanotechnology. He commented on the scale on which nanotechnology operates, and noted that this new science is poised to radically change our way of thinking if it is pursed to its fullest extent. He sounded hopeful for the potential of this science and professed to be very interested in where it will eventually take us. However, he also said that science is ever-changing and unpredictable, so it is possible that nanotechnology will eventually reach its limit, but will give rise to another new strain of science that is still unfathomable at our current time period and technological level.

Later that summer, I took a small tour at a research facility, and they also happened to bring up the topic of nanotechnology. This seemed to show that nanotechnology has already staked its position in the world of science, and has become a widely discussed topic in scientific discussions. At the time, I remembered that my teacher had given a similar presentation, so I decided to pursue the topic and give a few comments and raise a few questions. Unsurprisingly, the people giving the tour were confident that they would be able to make new developments and discoveries in this field very soon. I figured that of course they would have to say if they wanted to sound credible and productive. But the tour did give me a sense of the profoundness of science and just how much there is in the world that we have yet to understanding. Nanotechnology is a major step in our struggles to bridge the gap between our ignorance and complete understanding of the physical world.


Wen Wu

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