Nanotechnology, or nanotech, is the study and design of machines on the molecular and atomic level. To be considered nanotechnology, these structures must be anywhere from 1 to 100 nanometers in size. A nanometer is equivalent to one-billionth of a regular meter, which means that these structures are extremely small.
Researcher K. Eric Drexler was the first person to popularize this technology in the early 1980’s. Drexler was interested in building fully functioning robots, computers, and motors that were smaller than a cell. He spent much of the 80’s defending his ideas against critics that thought this technology would never be possible.
Today, the word nanotechnology means something a bit different. Instead of building microscopic motors and computers, researchers are interested in building superior machines atom by atom. Nanotech means that each atom of a machine is a functioning structure on its own, but when combined with other structures, these atoms work together to fulfill a larger purpose.
The U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative has large plans for nanotech. Mihail Roco, who is involved in this organization, explains the group’s future plans by dividing their goals into four generations.
The first generation of nanotech is defined by passive structures that are created to carry out one specific task. Researchers are currently in this generation of the technology. The second generation will be defined by structures that can multitask. Researchers are currently entering this generation and hoping to further their abilities in the near future. The third generation will introduce systems composed of thousands of nanostructurers. The last generation will be defined by nanosystems designed on the molecular level. These systems will work like living human or animal cells.
As nanotech continues to develop, consumers will see it being used for several different purposes. This technology may be used in energy production, medicine, and electronics, as well as other commercial uses. Many believe that this technology will also be used militarily. Nanotechnology will make it possible to build more advanced weapons and surveillance devices. While these uses are not yet possible, many researchers believe that it is only a matter of time.