26 April 2001
Feynman revolutionized miniaturization
Wondering how the next generation of engineers-to-be might be encouraged to take up the then-new field of miniaturization, Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman did some speculating in a 1959 speech entitled, "There's plenty of room at the bottom": "They could have competition in high schools. The Los Angeles high school could send a pin to the Venice high school on which it says, 'How's this?' They get the pin back, and in the dot of the 'i' it says, 'Not so hot.' "
A preposterous idea then, the emerging field of nanotechnology is now closing in on technological developments foreseen by Feynman more than 40 years ago.
In the same speech, for instance, he suggested a way engineers could build smaller computers. "Why can't we make them very small, make them of little wires, little elements—and by little, I mean little. For instance, the wires should be 10 or 100 atoms in diameter, and the circuits should be a few thousand angstroms across."
Advances in the development of small wires, just such as he described, are now a staple of physics laboratory press releases.
Feynman was born in 1918, received his undergraduate education at MIT, and was awarded a Ph.D. by Princeton University in 1942. He worked on development on the atomic bomb until 1945, then lectured at Cornell until 1950. That year he moved to CalTech, where he remained for the rest of his career. Feynman received the Nobel Prize in 1965 for his work in quantum physics. He died in 1988.