Possibilities for Future Nanotechnology Development

By Mihail "Mike" Roco

National Science Foundation

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Nanoscience and nanotechnology have opened an era of integration of fundamental research and engineering from the atomic and molecular levels, increased technological innovation, and an enabling base for improving human health and cognitive abilities in long term. The rudimentary capabilities of nanotechnology today are envisioned to evolve in four overlapping generations of new nanotechnology products: passive nanostructures, active nanostructures, systems of nanosystems, and molecular nanosystems. Besides advanced materials, electronics and pharmaceuticals, new possibilities are envisioned in nanomedicine, energy and water supply, food and agriculture, realistic simulations at the nanoscale, molecular nanosystems, and improving human potential. This lecture briefly explores scientific and technological frontiers of nanotechnology in the next decade. Examples of R&D challenges and nanotechnology development possibilities are tools for measurement and manipulation of matter with atomic precision, time resolution of chemical reactions, and for domains of engineering relevance; and a new body of manufacturing knowledge to support the advances in nano and micro science and engineering, including knowledge necessary for design, fabrication and assembly. Large systems with nanoscale components and emerging behavior using new architectures may yield new categories of products.

The balance between the promised benefits and measures to address possible undesirable effects is discussed. The general risks associated with nanotechnology applications and the deficits of the risk governance process today also will be presented, concluding with possible approaches for global nanotechnology governance.


Mike Roco Dr. Mike Roco is the Senior Advisor for Nanotechnology at the National Science Foundation (NSF) and a key architect of the National Nanotechnology Initiative. Dr. Roco is credited with thirteen patents and contributed over two hundred articles and fifteen books, including in the last year "Nanotechnology: Societal Implications - Maximizing Benefits to Humanity" (Springer, 2006) and “Managing Nano-Bio-Info-Cogno Innovations” (Springer, 2007). Under his stewardship the nanotechnology federal investment has increased from about $3 million to $1.3 billion in 2006. Dr. Roco is a corresponding member of the Swiss Academy of Engineering Sciences and a member of the International Risk Governance Council. He is a Fellow of ASME, AIChE and Institute of Physics, and was elected as Engineer of the Year by the U.S. Society of Professional Engineers and NSF in 1999 and again in 2004. Dr. Roco coordinated the preparation of the U.S. National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) reports on "Nanotechnology Research Directions" (NSTC, 1999) and "National Nanotechnology Initiative" (NSTC, 2000).

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Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  • Mihail "Mike" Roco (2007), "Possibilities for Future Nanotechnology Development," http://nanohub.org/resources/3525.

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ME 161, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IIN