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Use of Nanotechnology

It will be recalled that when molecules are attracted to each other, they tend to bond and form new substances. One prime example of this is to think of one molecule of oxygen, which when it comes in contact with one molecule of hydrogen becomes the powerful bleaching agent hydrogen peroxide. Add one more hydrogen atom and you get water.

That's the basic philosophy behind nanotechnology. Since everything in nature -- all materials that surround us -- are formed in exactly that way. Atoms form molecules, molecules form chains of properties (usually carbon-based) and enough chains together form solids. Science for the last several centuries has spent thousands of man-hours and billions of dollars discovering "what happens" when nature sets about building something. Now the research emphasis is finding out "how."

Finding out "how" is important since the science of manufacturing smaller and smaller devices has just about reached a saturation point for the external approach. For instance, one company called NovaSensor has created a tiny blood pressure sensor that goes inside the arteries and sends back signals that tell what's going on inside. Some 16,000 of NovaSensor's miniature blood-pressure readers, for instance, can be carved out of a single 4-inch wafer of silicon (Allman, 1992, 53). However, as Allman notes, "making machines smaller and smaller by carving chunks of silicon will ultimately run into physical limitations. Far better in the long run, researchers believe, is the strategy of building machines from individual molecules and atoms using nanotechnology. As with micromachinery, scientists' new ability to manipulate atoms began when researchers found that their old technology could be used in a radically different way" (Allman, 1992, 53).

For the past several years, a device called the scanning tunneling microscope (STM) has been a standard laboratory fixture. Then in 1989, to get breathtaking views of indi...

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