Nanotech a trope? Say it ain't so!
In fact, I'm not saying that. Nanotech is quite real, an up-and-coming revolution in how we will build most everything. Last year I said that in a lot more detail in two science articles, "Follow the Nanobrick Road" in Analog and "The Old Gray Goo, It Aint't What It Used to Be" in the The Bulletin of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.
Both articles resulted from my attendance at a 2007 conference, Productive Nanosystems: Launching the Technology Roadmap. I was at the conference merely as a journalist (and multitasking by gathering research for a future book). If you want to know much more, here's a link to the 200-page overview pdf.
The interesting attendees were nanotech luminaries across government, academia, and industry. They were there to publically release their vision of where nanotech is going -- or perhaps more precisely, where they are taking it. One highly visible organizer and speaker was K. Eric Drexler, whose 1986 science popularization The Engines of Creation brought nanotech into the popular culture. (The 1987 paperback edition still does respectable business on Amazon.)
We already have materials with nanotech aspects, even if sometimes used in comparatively trivial applications like sunscreens (exploiting really tiny particles of zinc oxide) and golf clubs (made lighter and more flexible by the use of carbon nanotubes in the shaft's composite material). The steady march of Moore's Law means electronics will be nanoscaled any day now. And over the next few decades, expect to see commercial nanotech steadily progressing from nanomaterials to:
- nanocomponents (like motors, pumps, and bearings), to
- functional nanosystems (combinations of nanocomponents), to
- atomically precise productive nanosystems (nanoscale systems able to produce other nanoscale systems), to
- (not my term -- it's way too clunky) scaled, atomically precise, productive nanosystem array systems (swarms of nanoscale manufacturing devices that cooperate to build macroscale objects).
(And that neat image? It's a simulated nanogear, each dot being an atom, from the online gallery of Nanorex.)