The Evolution of Nanotechnology

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The Evolution of Nanotechnology

A very interesting article in the May issue of Nature Nanotechnology:

Nature Nanotechnology 2, 259 - 261 (2007)

Subject Category: Ethical, legal and other societal issues
MBE deserves a place in the history books

W. Patrick McCray1

1. W. Patrick McCray is at the Center for Nanotechnology in Society, University of California, Santa Barbara, California 93106, USA. e-mail: eval(unescape('%64%6f%63%75%6d%65%6e%74%2e%77%72%69%74%65%28%27%3c%61%20%68%72%65%66%3d%22%6d%61%69%6c%74%6f%3a%70%6d%63%63%72%61%79%40%63%6e%73%2e%75%63%73%62%2e%65%64%75%22%3e%70%6d%63%63%72%61%79%40%63%6e%73%2e%75%63%73%62%2e%65%64%75%3c%2f%61%3e%27%29%3b'))

"It is common to read that nanotechnology began in December 1959 when Richard Feynman delivered a talk with the title "There's plenty of room at the bottom"1. According to this version of events, Feynman's foresight was confirmed when Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer invented the scanning tunnelling microscope (STM) in 1981, with the atomic force microscope following five years later2. Finally, nanotechnology really took off in the late 1990s when governments around the world started investing hundreds of millions of dollars in the field.

However, as a number of historians have pointed out, the history of nanotechnology is more complicated than this: Feynman's lecture, for example, was initially much less influential than is widely believed3, 4. Simple histories of nanotechnology also tend to overlook some experimental techniques: molecular beam epitaxy (MBE), for instance, played a central role in the growth and development of nanoscience and nanotechnology, yet it is rarely mentioned in popular or historical accounts".