Nanotechnology is a broad, new, mostly hypothetical area of research. It is, practically speaking, the ultimate step in miniaturization. Nanotechnology involves manipulating objects that are as small as a nanometer (one billionth of a meter) to create materials and products that are only the size of a dozen atoms.

Of course, nanotechnology is not merely futuristic speculation. It is used in its most rudimentary form in many products and materials today. For example, clothing manufacturers use nanotechnology to create stain-resistant cloth, auto manufacturers use it to make scratch- and dent-proof parts, and environmental researchers use it to develop substances to remove toxic metals from water.

Current uses, though, only scratch the surface of nanotechnology’s potential. The possibilities are practically limitless. Imagine a computer processor with all the capabilities of today’s top-of-theline desktop models, but that is the size of a single bacterium—or a super-computer the size of a sugar cube. These are considered reasonable expectations for the future of nanotechnology.

Experts in the field suggest nanotechnology will change human culture in ways that can scarcely be imagined. Indeed, some believe it will directly result in a “postmonetary economy” where money becomes meaningless, industrial manufacturing is unnecessary, and nanoassemblers instantly create any item a person desires.

The term nanotechnology refers to many different potential disciplines—nanomedicine, nanobiotechnology, nanolithography, nanoelectronics, artificial intelligence, and microencapsulation, just to name a few. But when the term is used in futuristic fiction, it almost always is in regard to nanorobotics.

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