When one reflects on the relatively short history of nanotech there are handful of names that standout, like Feynman, Taniguchi, Drexler, Smalley and Kroto, Binnig and Rohrer, and Don Eigler.
The New Scientist has recently published an interview with Eigler online that marks the 20th anniversary last month of his moving around of xenon atoms with a scanning tunneling microscope (STM) to spell I-B-M.
The brief interview calls upon Eigler to provide context to his 1989 experiment using the STM to manipulate the atoms: “Prior to this it was only through chemistry that we were able to build atomically precise structures.”
And provides his way of understanding the development of nanotechnology today: “I like to differentiate between evolutionary technology and revolutionary technology. My cellphone and laptop contain evolutionary nanotechnology because they can be traced back to larger structures. Revolutionary is still very much in the future, but I'm thinking of things like new forms of drug delivery or new kinds of molecular structures.”
Even the environmental, health and safety concerns that have become near-daily fodder for science news, Eigler offers up an opinion on: “…with testing and an appropriate degree of regulation we'll be able to reap the benefits with very little in the way of a downside.”
Dexter Johnson is a contributing editor at IEEE Spectrum, with a focus on nanotechnology.