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A Brief History of Nanotechnology, Business and Industry Trends Analysis


1959: Richard P. Feynman, a Nobel laureate physicist who became a pop culture icon, makes a speech envisioning the manipulation of materials on the nanoscale.


1981: Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer invent the scanning tunneling microscope (STM), which can image atomic-sized objects.


1985: C60 (also known as “buckminsterfullerenes” or “bucky balls”), a new form of carbon, is discovered by Robert F. Curl, Jr., Sir Harold W. Kroto and Richard E. Smalley while conducting research at Rice University in Houston, Texas.  They eventually received a Nobel Prize for their work.


1989: Scientists at IBM’s Almaden Research Laboratory manipulate 35 xenon atoms, using a variant of the Scanning Tunneling Microscope, into the shape of the IBM logo.


1991: Sumio Iijima, a researcher at NEC in Japan, discovers the carbon nanotube; he goes on to produce an advanced, single-walled version in 1993.


1997: The first molecular diodes are made by scientists at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa and at Yale, followed shortly by additional basic electrical components made by other scientists. 


2000: President Clinton submits a budget request that launches the National Nanotechnology Initiative, nearly doubling government spending on nanotech to $497 million for 2001, and for the first time coordinating multiple-agency projects.


2001: A working 16-bit memory circuit is made at UCLA, launching exciting research into applications for electronic circuitry and computers.


2004: The U.S. Congress approves $961 million to fund nanotechnology and enacts the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act, providing a total of $3.7 billion to nanotech between 2005 and 2008.  This money is paying for substantial research at dozens of universities and corporations. Areas of focus include applications for defense, homeland security, medicine and space exploration.  The Japanese government likewise provides serious backing for nanotech research. Government-backed efforts in China, Singapore and South Korea are impressive.


2006: Corporate investment in nanotechnology research, development and commercialization grows quickly.  Consumers have a growing awareness of products containing nanotech components.


2007:  More products with nanotech components are on the market than ever before, more than double that of the previous year.


2008:  Nanopiezotronics emerges, using arrays of zinc oxide nanowires to generate electrical current.  The technology has the potential to charge batteries like those in personal devices like iPods or medical devices such as hearing aids.


2009:  Incorporation of nanotech into electronics accelerates.  A team of researchers at HP Labs announced the development of a switching memristor, a fourth basic element in integrated circuits that theoretically could enable the development of computers that power on and off like an electric light.  Samsung, Micron Technology and Unity Semiconductor were also working on memristor technologies.


2010    The Nobel Prize in physics is awarded to Russian-born scientists Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov for their work on graphene.


2011    Researchers from Purdue University and the University of New South Wales create a working transistor from a single phosphorus atom embedded in a silicon crystal, paving the way towards a nanocomputer.


2013    Researchers and students at Stanford University built a simple computer using 142 transistors made from carbon nanotubes.  Although rudimentary, the test computer proves the concept that silicon nanotube-powered computers are possible. 


2014    Using electrochromics (which is concerned with the application of a small electrical charge to a thin coating of material, resulting in a dramatic color change), Dr. Delia Milliron at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory placed nanocrystals inside an electrochromic glass, enabling control of light and near-infrared transmission.


2015    The Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory announced a new method of large-scale graphene fabrication using chemical vapor deposition that brings the material closer to wide commercial use.


2016    Researchers at the University of Cambridge unveiled a method to produce “Polymer Opals,” which are stacked microscopic marbles that scatter light into intense colors.  The colors change when twisted or stretched, and may be used in wearable smart clothing or currency security.  Also in 2016, Three scientists, Jean-Pierre Sauvage, J. Fraser Stodart and Bernard L. Feringa, shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their work on molecular machines and motors.  This work could lead to tiny, molecular-scale robots.


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