Forum: Nanotechnology's Future; August 2006; Scientific American Magazine; by Mihail C. Roco; 1 Page(s)
Today nanotechnology is still in a formative phase--not unlike the condition of computer science in the 1960s or biotechnology in the 1980s. Yet it is maturing rapidly. Between 1997 and 2005, investment in nanotech research and development by governments around the world soared from $432 million to about $4.1 billion, and corresponding industry investment exceeded that of governments by 2005. By 2015, products incorporating nanotech will contribute approximately $1 trillion to the global economy. About two million workers will be employed in nanotech industries, and three times that many will have supporting jobs.
Descriptions of nanotech typically characterize it purely in terms of the minute size of the physical features with which it is concerned--assemblies between the size of an atom and about 100 molecular diameters. That depiction makes it sound as though nanotech is merely looking to use infinitely smaller parts than conventional engineering. But at this scale, rearranging the atoms and molecules leads to new properties. One sees a transition between the fixed behavior of individual atoms and molecules and the adjustable behavior of collectives. Thus, nanotechnology might better be viewed as the application of quantum theory and other nano-specific phenomena to fundamentally control the properties and behavior of matter.