Nanotechnology hit the big time in July 1995, when it debuted on the television show, The Outer Limits. In an episode entitled "The New Breed," a scientist develops nanorobots capable of repairing damaged cells and correcting physical defects. But, like any good morality play, the experiment goes horribly wrong, turning a panacea into a nightmare. Clearly, nanotechnology makes for good science fiction, but scientists have been working to make it an interesting reality, too.

Nanotechnology refers to the science of building, visualizing, and manipulating at the nanometer scale. The prefix nano means one billionth of something; thus, a nanometer (nm) is one billionth of a meter. An atom is about one-third of a nanometer wide, and a human hair is 200,000 nm in diameter.1

Richard P. Feynman, 1965 Physics Nobel laureate, first discussed nanotech in a lecture entitled "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom," at the...

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