The above term coined by Dr Eric Drexler in his book Engines of Creation (1986) was intended to be a new science which would astound the world, having the same effect as the industrial revolution and nuclear power had on us. The word nanotechnology may be a new word to you now, but within a decade or two it could be one of the most important words to know.
The word is derived from the Greek word for midget, nano, and teks (technology), meaning to fabricate, or create. In metric terminology nano is a prefix, which refers to a billionth of, and in this case that is a billionth of a meter, a nanometer (10-9).
Nanotechnology, often called molecular technology, will simply allow us to arrange individual atoms, in all the different ways permitted by the laws of physics. We will build products up from the individual atoms, perfectly, and precisely placing each atom as we desire. How we arrange theses atoms will ultimately determine what we make. If we re-arrange the atoms in coal, we can get a diamond.
Technology, as evolution has shown, progresses along a constant, but often-bumpy road. There are really only two variables on this road, and that is size versus power. You often have to sacrifice size for power, and power for size. But in this case, nanotechnology will satisfy both, it will re create all our perceptions on nearly everything. One example is a computer, which is the size of a sugar cube, but can store all the pages of the books in the Library of Congress, the largest library in the world. Future computers are expected to be a million, or even a billion times faster that our current computers.
Governments, companies and individuals have all started to realise the importance of this developing technology. That is why we have seen so much development in the past year. The U.S.A. government pledged $3 billion dollars to research and development this year.
If only a few of the predictions are realised, the potential of this technology having enormous beneficial outcomes for mankind are extremely great.
To help you grasp the concept of how small a nanometer is, understand this.
The distance from your nose to your hand is about a meter. A thousandth of that is a millimetre. And a thousandth of a millimeter is a micron. And finally, a thousandth of a micron is 1 nanometer(nm). It is a billionth of a meter, or about 1/100 000 the width of a human hair.
What we have to clear up is, Nanotechnology does not exist yet. Even though you will be hearing and seeing a lot of 'nanotechnology' in the market place, it is not really nanotechnology, in the true sense. To clarify the previous statement, consider the below two definitions.
Nanotechnology- It is the ability to create and manipulate at the atomic level. The ability to place and build atom by atom. (conceptual)
Nanoscale Bulk Technology- Nanoscale is the size, less than a micron (1000 nm), and bulk meaning moving many atoms at a single time. (reality)