The Nanometer Scale
This length scale ranges from the present limits of microelectronic fabrication down to assemblies of some tens of atoms. The nanometer scale is the regime where two complementary approaches to fabricating incredibly small objects meet:
- the top-down method of precise physical manipulation
- the bottom-up method of chemical assembly
On the one hand there are the technologies from the toolbox of physicists and engineers that have driven the capabilities of microelectronic manufacturing to fabricate about one billion electronic components on the area of a thumbnail. Today, using this top-down approach, elements of gigabit electronic chips can be produced with lengths of only about 100 nanometers, roughly 500 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair.
On the other hand chemists and molecular biologists have learned to use the ingenuity of mother nature to assemble large molecules in a bottom-up approach. They start from individual atoms and combine them into complex molecular units of incredible variety and functionality.
NanoScience aims at employing complementary techniques to study and modify properties of nanometer scale objects ranging from complex electronic circuits to macromolecules and biological cells. Not only does the smallness make this scale scientifically attractive but also properties are increasingly influenced by quantum phenomena. NanoScience is developing rapidly and is expected to provide new concepts for combining, for example, electronic signal processing with biochemistry to realize nanomachines - a new bridge between living matter and electronics.
By its very nature, NanoScience blurs the traditional boundaries between physics, chemistry and molecular biology. NanoScience brings to reality a vision that was put forward as early as 1959 by the famous physicist and Nobel Laureate Richard P. Feynman. In his lecture "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom" he predicts:
"When we get to the very, very small world, say circuits of seven atoms, we have a lot of new things that would happen that represent completely new opportunities for design."