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> The History of Nanotechnology Issue: 2014-2 Section: 17-19

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What is nanotechnology and when did it origi nate?

It has been shown that nanotechnologies are developments in other disciplines of engineering materials (such as film technology).

Even if the term nanotechnology is relatively new, it is actually an umbrella term that encompasses disciplines with ancient historical roots. Currently, researchers study the old meaning of the unknown which turns out to be composed mostly of nanoparticles.

So nanotechnologies exist and have existed around us in nature since forever.

In a narrow sense, nanotechnology is a technology based on the ability to build complex structures at the atomic level and the specifications using mechanical synthesis.

Nanoscale structures are not only very small, reaching even the atomic scale in their design, but they have some totally different and unexpected properties compared to traits of the same substance taken macroscopically.

The genesis of nanotechnology as a science

On December 29, 1959, Nobel prize Richard Feynman, made the first reference to nanotechnology and untapped advantages of miniature, saying: The principles of physics, to the extent that I can see, do not speak against the possibility of handling things atom by atom.

Today, there are tools that track precisely what Feynman said: creating structures moving atoms one by one.

This vision of the American physicist is considered to be the first discussion about nanotechnology and as late as 1974, Norio Taniguchi of Tokyo University accepts the term nanotechnology.

For another 10 years, nanotechnology remained away from public knowledge.

In 1986, American Eric K. Drexler wrote Engines of Creation: the coming era of nanotechnology , a book that is considered the core of nanotechnology, a field that will radically change in a few decades all sides of life’s fundamental humanity

While Eric was writing his book, a group of researchers at Rice University studied a molecule artifact. After several physical and chemical processes done on this molecule, Richard

Smalley and his team noticed that the carbon formed highly stable crystal composed of six atoms.

They saw how the crystals share a structure known as football and called the discovery fullerene or buckyball.

Buckyball remains the most important discovery of nanotechnology.

This discovery led to the winning of a Prize award in Chemistry in 1996 for Smalley and colleagues.

Another step towards the development of nanotechnology is the invention of two tools that have revolutionized the visualization and manipulation of nanoscale surfaces.

These two findings are: Scanning Tunnelling Microscope (STM) and Atomic Force Microscope (AFM) which are able to illustrate surface atomic resolution.

Binning and his collaborators at IBM Zurich are the inventors of instruments, for which they were rewarded in 1986 with the Nobel Prize for Physics.

The invention of these tools basically paved the way of nano world to scientists.

In September 1989, researcher Don Eigler, IBM Fellow, managed for the first time in history to move and control an individual atom, and in November 1989, his team wrote the word IBM using 35 xenon atoms positioned with nanometer precision.

Sumio Iijima discovered carbon nanotubes in 1991 which became a field of research valorous chemistry and molecular physics.

Carbon nanotubes are allotropes of carbon with cylindrical nanostructure and unusual properties not only in nanotechnology but also in electronics and optics.

Nanotechnology older than nanoscience.

Even if nanotechnology was introduced in 1959 as a science, there is evidence that the use of nanoparticle manipulation goes back to 2000 years ago: Damascus swords, Lycurgus cup, Ajanta paintings, traditional Indian cosmetic Kajal.

Metal colloids are the best examples of nanotechnology during the medieval and modern age.

The color of these nanoparticles is influenced by their shape and size.

These metal colloids dates back to the fifth century. The proof of their existence since that time is a Roman paper glass, Lycurgus’ cup, with a depiction of a scene involving King Lycurgus of Thracia.

We can see that when this work is illuminated from the outside it is green and when it is illuminated from within it gives a ruby red color, except the king who is purple.

The mystery of the variations of colours was not solved until 1990 when researchers in England analysed microscopical fragments and found that there were silver and gold particles embedded in the glass.

Another example of the existence of these colloids is the amazing stained glass made in The Middle Ages and also today in many churches. These windows are made of a composition of glass and metal particles.

If we look back to the past and the history of science, since the late nineteenth century gold colloids have been a topic of research.

The scientist who conducted systematic studies on the properties of metal colloids, especially those made of gold, was Michael Faraday who presented his paper to the Royal Society of London, in 1857.

He described a process of color change, claiming that if a gold colloid salt is added it changes color in blue.

The marvellous material represented by carbon nanotubes discovered in 1991 was used 2000 years ago in India to manufacture the famous Damascus’ swords that were famous for their impregnated carbon steel, hard and flexible at the same time.

The history of materials engineering shows many examples of nanomaterials.

Over time such materials have unwittingly been produced but have not been characterized as nanoscale because they did not have the necessary tools.

For example, the anodizing was first used in the early 1930s as one of the most important processes used in industry to protect aluminum from corrosion.

The inventors of this technique were not aware that what protects the aluminum is actually a latest nano material device.

Other known examples are found in the structure of nanoparticles rubber tires, titanium dioxide found in some latest sunscreen products, many synthetic molecules used in compounding drugs etc.



Since the most ancient times, craftsmen and artisans have unconsciously used the techniques of manipulation of atoms and the particles obtaining the tools/products of the highest quality rediscovered only in the second half of the 20th century with the advent of nanoscience.

Currently, nanotechnology affects people’s lives more than any scientific discovery with applications in all areas and techniques. Nanotechnology has a number of general areas: medicine, environment, cosmetic, electronic technology, household appliances, etc.



This work was supported by A.L.P.H.A.- pupils Comenius Bilateral Project (2013-1-RO1 COM07-29620 1)

We warmly thank to the teachers Tamara Slatineanu, Cristina Mosu for their effective help.



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  • Jack Malcom,, Christina Agapakis, Feynman on Biology, 1900 SE 24th Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA, 27 July 2013
  • Steve,,, USA, 25 September 2014
  • Zachary Abel,, Zachary Abel, Worcester County, Massachusetts, USA, 31 August 2014
  • Andreas Roelofs,, Photo-Initiated Charge Separation in Nanobiohybrid Complex, Argonne National Laboratory, Argonne, Illinois, USA, 11 July 2014
  • A. Ippoliti, C. Ottaviani, G. Righini,, Instituto di Struttura della Materia, Roma,19 September 2014
  • Tangient LLC,, Eric Ablett, Carbon, San Francisco,24 September 2014
  • Pierrette Tremblay,, David R. Cole, Mineralogical Society of America, USA, 12 August 2014
  • Dragos Barbu,, Expozitie de sabii, Bucuresti, Romania, 17 August 2014.