Ancient cultures are known for their massive feats of engineering such as the pyramids of Egypt and Macchu Picchu in Peru, but ancient craft-workers should also be known for their efforts creating works of art and tools on the level of nanoscale. These craft-workers didn’t understand nanoscience like we do, but through trial and error, they created products with special properties that made them stronger, more resistant to water, and which turned various colors when exposed to light.
One example of such products are the Damascus steel swords that were created in the Middle East between A.D. 1200 and A.D. 1700. Scientists have discovered that these blades, known for their extreme durability and sharpness, contain carbon nanotubes, nanowires, and other extremely small, intricate structures.
The origins of the modern nanoscience industry can be traced to 1959 when Professor Richard Feynman of the California Institute of Technology gave a now-famous speech, “There is a Lot of Space Down There,” in which he encouraged the scientific community to undertake what became known as nanoengineering (a term that wasn’t actually coined until 1974).
Scientific discoveries in the 1980s allowed scientists to conduct extensive research in nanoscience and nanoengineering. By the 1990s, the first commercial nanotechnology companies (such as Zyvex and Nano-Tex) were founded, and by the late 1990s, consumer products making use of nanotechnology appeared in the marketplace.
In 2004, State University of New York-Albany launched the first college-level nanotechnology program in the U.S., the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering. In December of that year, the university awarded the world’s first Ph.D. degrees in nanoscience.
In the last decade, the number of products that include nanomaterials has taken off. From 2005 to 2013, the number of nanotechnology-based consumer products (NBCPs) that were introduced grew by 24 percent, according to the Nanotechnology Consumer Products Inventory. As of 2020, it is estimated that there are more than 1,600 NBCPs in the market, as reported by the Woodrow Wilson Center.
- Biomedical Engineers
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