Nanotechnology – it’s the hottest field of science these days, with roots dating back to the 1950s. Basically, nanotechnology involves manipulation of molecular building blocks to create or modify materials or devices.
The potential is great. Dr. Ralph Merkle, a pioneer in the nanotechnology field, explains it this way:
Manufactured products are made from atoms. The properties of those products depend on how those atoms are arranged. If we rearrange the atoms in coal we can make diamond. If we rearrange the atoms in sand (and add a few other trace elements) we can make computer chips. If we rearrange the atoms in dirt, water and air we can make potatoes.
Today’s manufacturing methods are very crude at the molecular level. Casting, grinding, milling and even lithography move atoms in great thundering statistical herds. It's like trying to make things out of LEGO blocks with boxing gloves on your hands. Yes, you can push the LEGO blocks into great heaps and pile them up, but you can't really snap them together the way you'd like.
In the future, nanotechnology will let us take off the boxing gloves. We'll be able to snap together the fundamental building blocks of nature easily, inexpensively and in most of the ways permitted by the laws of physics. . .
The relatively recent development of scientific tools, such as atomic force and scanning tunneling microscopes that allow measurement and imaging of extremely small structures, have laid the foundation for this new field of scientific inquiry and opportunity. Most early work in this area has focused on carbon and the use of carbon nanotubes (perfectly straight tubules with diameters of nanometer size, and properties close to that of an ideal graphite fiber) for applications ranging from microelectrodes in electrochemical reactions to technical reinforcement of a range of products. Now, efforts to apply nanotechnology to the forest products field are underway, with the possibilities limited only by the imagination.