CERN European Organisation for Nuclear Research

Applied Physics Group
Nanotechnology Manipulating Atoms

CERN Accelerating science

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Todays manufacturing methods are very crude at the molecular level. Casting, grinding, milling and even lithography move atoms in great thundering statistical herds.
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 almost any arrangement that we desire. This will be essential if we are to continue the revolution in computer hardware beyond about the next decade, and will also let us fabricate an entire new generation of products that are cleaner, stronger, lighter, and more precise.
It is worth pointing out that the word "nanotechnology" has become very popular and is used to describe many types of research where the characteristic dimensions are less than about 1000 nanometers. For example, continued improvements in lithography have resulted in line widths that are less than one micron: this work is often called "nanotechnology." Sub-micron lithography is clearly very valuable (ask anyone who uses a computer!) but it is equally clear that lithography will not let us build semiconductor devices in which individual dopant atoms are located at specific lattice sites. Many of the exponentially improving trends in computer hardware capability have remained steady for the last 50 years. There is fairly widespread confidence that these trends are likely to continue for at least another ten years, but then lithography starts to reach its fundamental limits.
If we are to continue these trends we will have to develop a new "post-lithographic" manufacturing technology which will let us inexpensively build computer systems with mole quantities of logic elements that are molecular in both size and precision and are interconnected in complex and highly idiosyncratic patterns. Nanotechnology will let us do this.
The lectures will give an overview of the present status of nanotechnology both in fundamental and applied research.

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