Although the underlying concepts of nanotechnology were thought up in 1959, only during the 1990s were the first tentative steps taken toward identifying and developing nanomaterials. “Between the end of the first decade of the 21st century and 2025, a number of gamechangers will need to occur if nanotech is to advance significantly,” von Stackelberg says. These gamechangers include:
- A shift from “passive” to “active” nanotech. In the coming decades, nanotech will likely make the transition from simple nanomachines—particles, crystals, rods, tubes, and sheets of atoms—to more complex ones that contain valves, switches, pumps, and motors.
- Nanoscale tools. To work at the nanoscale, new tools will be needed to allow researchers and technicians to see, measure, and manipulate individual atoms and molecules. “One promising approach uses dynamic light scattering, a technique that measures how much nanoparticles jiggle when hit with laser light,” von Stackelberg shares. “Many scientists agree that this method has the potential to do rapid, accurate measurement, and is expected to be operational by 2010.”
- Nanofabrication. Currently, manufacturing processes for nanomaterials are extremely expensive, produce only small amounts of material, and generate a significant amount of impurities and waste, von Stackelberg says. “But consider this: Assembly of nanodevices today is at the same stage as the automobile industry was before Henry Ford developed the assembly line.”