According to some, nanotechnology holds the promise of a future heaven on Earth: all Man's needs will be met and an idyllic paradise will ensue driven by wondrous machines the size of molecules.
Others predict a hell of unprecedented proportions.
Like all predictions, the truth probably lies somewhere in-between the two extrapolations—hopefully closer to the former than the latter.
In any case, nanotechnology is here to stay and the progress towards perfecting it has begun to move exponentially regardless whether the human race is ready for it or not.
Recently, a team of chemists and physicists at the School of Physics and Astronomy—and the School of Chemistry—at the University of Nottingham demonstrated that by a process of adding a "guest" molecule to a formation of engineered molecules, they can create structures in 3D rather than the 2D that have been created by researchers in the past.
The accomplishment was the first of its kind and has been hailed as a major advancement in the ability to manipulate micro-matter into building blocks as a foundation for future nanotechnological projects.
The scientific journal, "Nature Chemistry," published the team's paper on the breakthrough. ["Guest-induced growth of a surface-based supramolecular bilayer"]
Nanotechnology—also called "nanotech"—is the science of building workable structures and devices with matter on the molecular or atomic scale. Nano size is usually defined as falling into a range between 1 to 100 nanometers.
The concept of nanotechnology can be traced back to the late 1950s. Serious applications research began in earnest during the last decade.
It's anticipated that amazing technological breakthroughs will evolve from such research and permit the utilization of nanotech in many diverse fields including the material sciences, energy, robotics, space travel, advanced medical technologies, computers and other electronics.
The Nottingham breakthrough is a significant leap. It promises the near term creation of nanotech devices for electronic and optical applications, perhaps even molecular computers—just several steps away from the ultimate quantum computers.
According to the published paper, the Nottingham scientists developed an entirely new approach with their guest molecule, a "buckyball." They introduced it onto a patterned array of tetracarboxylic acid molecules. The shape of a buckyball is naturally spherical so it will stay above the molecule beneath it while other molecules can form about it.
This new process allows more control of the building process and facilitates stacking layers on top of the base molecule.
Although the breakthrough is like a lightning strike in the world of nanotech, the Nottingham team has had lightning strike twice in a matter of weeks. A previous paper published September 2010 in "Nature Communications" described how the Nottingham researchers had managed to show how an irregularly shaped molecule is absorbed on a surface, thus enabling future nanotechnicians to control the tiny matter and form uniform structures. ["Self-assembled aggregates formed by single-molecule magnets on a gold surface"]
The 3D nanotechnology self-assembles once the guest molecule is introduced and paves the way for a brave new world in scientific applications.
An immediate application that such a new technology offers is data storage. Nanotech devices could theoretically store terabytes more data in a much smaller space than the current silicon-based devices.