As the journal Nanotechnology enters its third decade it is interesting to look back on the field and to think about where it may be headed in the future. The growth of the journal over the past twenty years mirrors that of the field, with exponentially rising numbers of citations and a widening diversity of topics that we identify as nanotechnology.

In the early 1990s, Nanotechnology was focused primarily on nanoscale electronics and on scanning probe tools for fabricating and characterizing nanostructures. The synthesis and assembly of nanomaterials was already an active area in chemical research; however, it did not yet intersect strongly with the activities of the physics community, which was interested primarily in new phenomena that emerged on the nanoscale and on the devices that derived from them. In the 1990s there were several key advances that began to bridge this gap. Techniques were developed for making nanocrystals of compound semiconductors, oxides, and metals with very fine control over shape and superstructure.

Carbon nanotubes were discovered and their unique electronic properties were demonstrated. Research on the self-assembly of organic molecules on surfaces led to the development of soft lithography and layer-by- layer assembly of materials. The potential to use DNA and then proteins as building blocks of precise assemblies of nanoparticles was explored. These bottom-up structures could not be made by top-down techniques, and their unique properties as components of sensors, electronic devices, biological imaging agents, and drug delivery vehicles began to change the definition of the field.

Under the radar
Ten years ago, Inelke Malsch published a study on the scientific trends and organizational dynamics of nanotechology in Europe (1999 Nanotechnology 10 1–7). Scientists from a variety of disciplines were asked which areas of research they would include in the definition of nanotechnology. Although the article concluded with forward-looking thoughts in the direction of emerging solar energy, environmental, and biological research, the survey revealed a narrower perspective among scientists. Nano and quantum electronics, nanostructured materials, scanning probe techniques, and mesoscopic physics were all identified strongly with nanotechnology, but many of the most active areas of today's research—solar cell materials, biosensors and therapeutic agents, photonics, plasmonics, optical metamaterials, displays and nanomachines—were not mentioned. Indeed, there are also quite a few areas that were under the radar in 1999, such as superhydrophobic cloth, electronic ink, antibacterial silver, and catalytic nanoparticles, which have now developed into practical technologies.

While we could sense a decade ago that nanotechnology was an exciting field that was poised for explosive growth, we had no way to tell how the science was going to evolve or what new discoveries would emerge. Today the synthesis of new materials and societal needs in energy, health, security, and other areas drive the field, much as new scanning probe tools and Moore's law did in the 1990s. We can clearly see that the boundaries of traditional disciplines have dissolved and that the scope of nanotechnology has grown. The original problems of nanoelectronics and mesoscopic phenomena remain interesting and important today, but the field is also so much more. It seems likely that when we look back again ten years from now, we will continue to see key discoveries, unanticipated today, that will have reshaped the field of nanotechnology.

Speed read
Popular papers from 2009

Hierarchically organized nanostructured TiO2 for photocatalysis applications


Self-aligned growth of single-walled carbon nanotubes using optical near-field effects


Photo-induced effects on self-organized TiO2 nanotube arrays: the influence of surface...


3D electrodes for dye-sensitized solar cells: synthesis of indium–tin-oxide nanowire arrays and ITO/TiO2 core–shell nanowire arrays...

Spray deposition of steam treated and functionalized SW- and MW-CNT films for supercapacitors

Graphene on insulating crystalline substrates

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