Cambridge Encyclopedia » Cambridge Encyclopedia Vol. 53

nanotechnology - Fundamental concepts, Current research, Speculation, Societal implications, Further reading

atoms chip transistors power

The science of construction in which dimensions of the components are less than 100 nanometres (nm; 10?9 of a metre), this is c.100 000 times thinner than a human hair. The term was introduced by Nomo Taniguchi in 1974 to refer to mechanical machining methods. Top-down nanotechnology concentrates on manufacturing on this very small scale. Techniques such as photolithography are used to make transistors for integrated circuits; the smaller the transistor, and the closer together they are packed, the higher the processing power of the chip. An Intel Pentium chip has about 1·5 million transistors. A specialized Dynamic Random Access (DRAM) chip carries 64 million transistors. Bottom-up nanotechnology builds with individual atoms. A Scanning Tunnelling Microscope (STM) is used to manipulate and arrange individual atoms exactly as required. A recent development has been the Nanomanipulator, which senses the electric fields of the atoms; this uses 3-D computer graphics and virtual reality technology to allow the scientists to ‘see’ and ‘feel’ the atoms as they move them. In 1985, naturally occurring crystals called fullerenes were discovered. One type is the Buckminsterfullerene (nicknamed a Buckyball), a hollow carbon ball which is so strong that it can be used as tiny ball bearings. Rolling up a sheet of carbon atoms produces a tube which is only a nanometre wide. If metals are ‘sucked’ up the tiny tube and the ‘straw‘ then dissolved, the result is a nanowire which can be used in microelectric circuits. The application of nanotechnology may result in revolutionary methods of atom-by-atom manufacturing and surgery on a cellular scale, as well as the creation of computers of great compactness and power.

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