Nanotechnology primarily involves the assembly and manipulation of function systems at the molecular scale, from anywhere between 1 to 100 nanometers. While its concept, namely synthesis of molecules by direct manipulation of atoms, were first discussed and publicized by Physicist Richard Feynman in his 1969 talk "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom", the term "nanotechnology" wasn't coined until 1974, by Japanese Professor Norio Taniguchi. Though perhaps somewhat fortuitously, the first demonstration where nanotechnology was ostensibly applied is found in the Lycurgus Cup, which was made with small proportions of gold and silver nanoparticles distributed across the cup. Due to the presence of these nanoparticules, the Cup is able to display different colors depending on whether light is passing through.
|The Lycurgus Cup: green when light shines from in front, red when from the back|
Given the modern notion of nanotechnology, and the fact that the Cup is a 4th century Roman artifact, the process in which it is made remains unclear, and may therefore be accidental, with the craftsman not even being aware of the presence of gold. Nevertheless, the Lycurgus Cup remains the first piece of artwork whose roots are deeply entwined with nanotechnology.
In Dr Gimzewski's lecture, another scientist and engineer that is notable in the history of nanotechnology is Dr Eric Drexler, who arguably wrote the first scholarly article on the topic, and is known for popularizing its potential. In his book <Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology>, Drexler pondered the idea of a molecular assembler, one that is able to assemble molecular machines of arbitrary complexity. His vision of nanotechnology , one that revolves primarily around these molecular machines, however, was deemed "naive" by Nobel Laureate Richard Smalley , who put forth a number of arguments against Drexler. Since the conclusion of the debate in 2003, there have been quite a number of successful experiments that were in fact able to synthesize machine-like molecules. A notable example would the nanocar, developed by Rice Professor James Tour to demonstrate whether fullerenes slide or roll on a metal surface.
|Nanocar rolling across a surface|
|Schematics of the nanotube oscillator|
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4. "Nanocars". James Tour. James Tour Group. N.d. Web 22 May 2016.<http://www.jmtour.com/about/photos_graphics/nanocars/>
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