Nano Bears

The year was 1959. The bears were not yet born 🙂

The Biennale de Paris was launched by André Malraux with the purpose of creating a meeting place for those who would define the art of the future. A showcase of culture, savoir-faire and heritage, the Biennale des Antiquaires is the France of Louis XIV and his successors in Versailles, that of the Belle Époque and the Art Deco era, that of Le Corbusier, Monet and Cartier – a France that set the tone for the rest of the world. The Biennale has made of Paris the guardian of a certain idea of France – that of a symbol of luxury – its antiquarians tirelessly persevering to keep alive the appeal of rare métiers performed by generations of cabinet makers, goldsmiths, lacquer artisans, marquetry craftsmen, bronze workers, sculptors and upholsterers, who take their time to achieve perfection through activities where originality and scarcity are the watchwords.

The last Biennale was held at the Grand Palais in Paris from September 11 to 21, 2014, where 86 internationally renowned art and antique dealers – mostly French and by invitation only – presented more than 5,000 unusual and beautiful objects worth approximately $40 billion to 90,000 visitors. One of the objects presented was La Pomme de Ben by Claude and François-Xavier, a bronze sculpture.

La Pomme de Ben by Claude and François-Xavier Lalanne
La Pomme de Ben by Claude and François-Xavier Lalanne

Monkey aside, thank goodness it’s an apple and not a cherry!

Back to 1959 and other events of that year.

The 1959 Cadillac had it all – looks, performance and comfort. It stood as the ultimate symbol of success, impressive and controversial. The outrageous tail fins and jet pod tail lights evoked either a love it or leave it attitude with the public. Maurice D. Hendry, author of “Cadillac: Standard of the World, The Complete Seventy-Year History”, refused to include a picture of the regular production 1959 Cadillac in his book. He said that, “This year saw the tail fins reach a literally ridiculous height… The fins had plenty of critics including this writer…. Nevertheless, the 1959s overall were excellent… As cars – rocket fins or not – they were undeniably excellent.”

Cadillac Series 62 Coupe DeVille 1959
Cadillac Series 62 Coupe DeVille 1959

2 January – USSR launches Mechta – Luna 1, also known as Mechta (Russian: Dream), was the first spacecraft to reach the vicinity of the Earth’s Moon, and the first spacecraft to be placed in heliocentric orbit. Intended as an impactor, Luna 1 was launched as part of the Luna programme in 1959, however due to an incorrectly timed upper stage burn during its launch, it missed the Moon; in the process becoming the first spacecraft to leave geocentric orbit.

Museum replica of Luna 1
Museum replica of Luna 1

25 January – First transcontinental commercial jet flight by an American Airlines Boeing 707 from Los Angeles to New York (for $301 – in today’s dollars $2,446).

29 January – Walt Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” is released.

1 February – Swiss men vote against voting rights for women (2-1 against) – Women’s suffrage in Switzerland was introduced at the federal level for the first time after the February 7, 1971 referendum, voting in the inverse proportion of that reported at the time of the February 1, 1959 referendum.

1 February – Texas Instruments requests patent of IC (Integrated Circuit) – Jack Kilby’s first working integrated circuit (in 1958) consisted of a transistor, several resistors, and a capacitor on a sliver of germanium less than half an inch long. It was a rough device by any standard. But as his oscilloscope screen showed, it worked. Kilby often remarked that if he’d known he’d be showing the first working integrated circuit for the next 40-plus years, he would have “prettied it up a little” 🙂 Kilby received the Nobel Prize for the integrated circuit in 2000.

Jack Kilby's original integrated circuit.
Jack Kilby’s original integrated circuit.

9 March – The Barbie doll makes its debut at the American International Toy Fair in New York. This date is also used as Barbie’s official birthday.

The first Barbie doll was introduced in both blonde and brunette in March 1959.
The first Barbie doll was introduced in both blonde and brunette in March 1959.

29 March – “Some Like It Hot”, starring Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, and Jack Lemmon, is released. “Some Like it Hot” received widespread critical acclaim at the time of release and it was also one of the only American films to receive a “C” or Condemned rating by the Roman Catholic Church’s Legion of Decency.

9 April – NASA names first 7 astronauts for Project Mercury – Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom, John Glenn, Scott Carpenter, Wally Schirra, Gordon Cooper and Deke Slayton.

Project Mercury Astronauts
Project Mercury Astronauts

19 May – The USS Triton, the first submarine with two nuclear reactors, is completed.

August – Theodore Harold Maiman was finally able to divert his attention to the laser concept, and in May 1960, he demonstrated the laser in action, from a ruby crystal in his laboratory at Hughes Atomic Physics Department in Malibu, despite lack of support from the company. Maiman’s and Hughes’ total expenditures in the period of laser development amounted to about $50,000, while other research groups spent millions of dollars in their unsuccessful struggles to obtain the coherent light. The Physical Review Letters rejected Maiman’s article on his achievement and consequently, the first scientific report about the first laser appeared on August 6, 1960 not in the USA but in Great Britain. The paper was titled “Stimulated Optical Radiation in Ruby” (Nature, 1960, v.187, P.493).

12 September – Luna 2 is launched by USSR – Luna 2 was the second of the Soviet Union’s Luna programme spacecraft launched to the Moon. It was the first spacecraft to reach the surface of the Moon, and the first man-made object to (crash-)land on another celestial body, on September 14, 1959.

4 October – USSR Luna 3 sends back first photos of Moon’s far side – Luna 3 was the first-ever mission to photograph the far side of the Moon. Though it returned rather poor pictures by later standards, the historic, never-before-seen views of the far side of the Moon caused excitement and interest when they were published around the world.

The first image returned by Luna 3 showed the far side of the Moon was very different from the near side, most noticeably in its lack of lunar maria (the dark areas)
The first image returned by Luna 3 showed the far side of the Moon was very different from the near side, most noticeably in its lack of lunar maria (the dark areas)

21 October – Guggenheim Museum, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, opens in New York.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

18 November – Ben Hur premiers at Loew’s State Theatre in New York City. It was the fastest-grossing as well as the highest grossing film of 1959, and had the largest budget ($15.175 million) as well as the largest sets built of any film produced at the time.

1 December – United States launches the Thor missile into space with a color camera on board – The first photo of Earth was taken in 1946, but was black and white, and taken just above the New Mexico’s atmosphere. The camera on the Thor missile was the first color camera to take photos of Earth from space. However the photos weren’t seen until February 16th, 1960, when the data capsule would come back to Earth.

12 December – UN Committee on Peaceful Use of Outer Space is established.

All very interesting, but what does this have to do with anything and in particular with the bears?

On the 29th of December 1959, future Nobel laureate Richard Feynman gave a visionary and now often quoted talk entitled “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom”. The occasion was an American Physical Society meeting at the California Institute of Technology, Feynman’s intellectual home at the time. Although he didn’t intend it, Feynman’s 7,000 words were a defining moment in nanotechnology, long before anything ‘nano’ appeared on the horizon.

Last night, little Puffles and Jay attended a public lecture at UWA titled “Nanotechnology – Do We Live in Richard Feynman’s Science Fiction?”

Nanotechnology - Do We Live in Richard Feynman's Science Fiction?
Nanotechnology – Do We Live in Richard Feynman’s Science Fiction?

The lecture was given by Dr Axel Lorke, Professor of Experimental Physics at the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany, and 2015 UWA Gledden Visiting Fellow. The starting point was of course Feynman’s lecture. In this lecture, Feynman envisioned a technology that is based on the ability to see, manipulate and build objects on the smallest scale – down to the atomic level. In a society that was preoccupied with “larger-higher-further“ and was reaching out to the stars, Feynman’s ideas were considered little more than Science Fiction from an unconventional mind – brilliant, but unrealistic. While Feynman got some things wrong, he got a lot of them right and today we have far surpassed some of his predictions.

“What I want to talk about is the problem of manipulating and controlling things on a small scale… What I have demonstrated is that there is room—that you can decrease the size of things in a practical way. I now want to show that there is plenty of room. I will not now discuss how we are going to do it, but only what is possible in principle… We are not doing it simply because we haven’t yet gotten around to it.”

Richard Feynman
Richard Feynman

Richard Feynman described the exciting possibilities that would open up if scientists could learn how to control single atoms and molecules, and improve the performance of instruments such as electron microscopes. In this famous lecture, Feynman laid the conceptual foundations for the field now called nanotechnology when he imagined a day when things could be miniaturised – when huge amounts of information could be encoded onto increasingly small spaces and when machinery could be made considerably smaller and more compact. He asked his audience:

“I don’t know how to do this on a small scale in a practical way, but I do know that computing machines are very large; they fill rooms. 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.”

We have miniaturised the computer. Today, there is more computing power in an optical mouse than was in all the computers used for the Apollo 11 mission that landed the first humans on the Moon, Americans Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, on July 20, 1969. Yes, unreal!

Optical Mouse
Optical Mouse

Although some have questioned the degree to which Feynman influenced the rise of nanotechnology, his lecture is still seen as a seminal event in the short history of the nano field. It was important enough that, 25 years later, Feynman was invited to give an updated version of “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom” at a weeklong seminar held at the Esalen Institute in October, 1984. This time around, he called his talk “Tiny Machines”. And while sticking close to the 1959 script, Feynman’s revised lecture shows what technological advances had been made since he first outlined his vision for a nano world.

The breadth of Feynman’s vision is staggering. In that lecture 56 years ago he anticipated a spectrum of scientific and technical fields that are now well established, among them electron-beam and ion-beam fabrication, molecularbeam epitaxy, nanoimprint lithography, projection electron microscopy, atom-by-atom manipulation, quantum-effect electronics, spin electronics (also called spintronics) and microelectromechanical systems (MEMS). The lecture also projected what has been called the ‘magic’ Feynman brought to everything he turned his singular intellect toward.

Back in 1959, 41-year-old Feynman was one of the leading theoretical physicists in the world, and his work on quantum electrodynamics in the early 1940s would earn him a share of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1965. However, this was a few years before his famous Feynman Lectures on Physics had made him a household name among physics undergraduates, and a few decades before he would become famous well beyond the physics community thanks to his 1985 autobiography, ‘Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman!’, and his work on the presidential commission that investigated the Challenger space shuttle disaster of 1986. Whoever invited Feynman to speak at the American Physical Society meeting deserves credit for their foresight.

In 1959, it was only six years since Crick and Watson had determined the double-helix structure of DNA, the laser and Silicon Valley were still taking shape, Feynman’s Caltech rival and colleague Murray Gell-Mann had yet to propose the quark model of particle physics, and scanning probe microscopes and carbon nanotubes were still decades away. Although Feynman was speaking at a physics meeting, and the subtitle for his lecture was ‘An invitation to enter a new field of physics’, he did not confine himself to his own back yard. Indeed, it is possible to read the lecture as a manifesto for physicists to take control of both the physical and biological sciences. And it is little wonder that chemists in particular have bridled at some of Feynman’s comments about chemical synthesis: “A chemist comes to us and says, ‘Look, I want a molecule that has the atoms arranged this and so; make me that molecule.’ The chemist does a mysterious thing when he wants to make a molecule. He sees that it has got that ring, so he mixes this and that, and he shakes it, and he fiddles around.” But to dwell on these aspects of the lecture would be an injustice to the intellectual firepower that Feynman brought to a wide range of subjects within physics and beyond (and would also overlook the elements of the clown and the showman that were very much part of Feynman’s character).

“Why cannot we write the entire 24 volumes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica on the head of a pin?”

It turns out we can do that now, but why would we want to? Because we can! Bryan Cord from the University of Minnesota, where he damages things with high-energy electron beams for fun and profit when not protecting the Minnesota NanoCenter from grad students’ attempts to turn it into a smoking crater, took the transcript of Feynman’s talk and demonstrated we can fit 10,000,000 characters per square millimeter. That translates into a resolution of 20 nanometers. One nanometer is one millionth of a millimeter. How small is that? Here are some examples for comparison:
• A sheet of paper is about 100,000 nanometers thick
• A strand of human DNA is 2.5 nanometers in diameter
• A human hair is approximately 80,000- 100,000 nanometers wide (so we’re splitting hairs about 4000 times!)
• A single gold atom is about a third of a nanometer in diameter

Another comparison, the scale of a nano-particle is to Puffles and Jay what Puffles and Jay are to the size of the Earth. (Seriously, close enough!)

Nano Bears

Today, you can fit the 24 volumes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (the paper version of Wikipedia 🙂 ) 250 times on a 32GB micro SD card. The micro card in my camera is 64GB. The bears are very photogenic 🙂

Nano Bears

Feynman devoted a significant part of “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom” to electron microscopy, stressing the breakthroughs that would be possible in many areas of science if it were possible to “just look at the thing!”. “I put this out as a challenge: Is there no way to make the electron microscope more powerful?”

An example of an instrument embodying this thought behind it is the scanning tunnelling microscope, invented by the late Heinrich Rohrer and Gerd Binnig at IBM’s Zurich research lab in the 1980s. They knew that electrons within the surface of an electrically conducting sample should be able to cross a tiny gap to reach another electrode held just above the surface, thanks to a quantum-mechanical effect called tunnelling. Because tunnelling is acutely sensitive to the width of the gap, a needle-like metal tip moving across the sample, just out of contact, could trace out the sample’s topography. If the movement was fine enough, the map might even show individual atoms and molecules. And so it did.

Between the basic idea and a working device, however, lay an incredible amount of practical expertise – of sheer craft – allied to rigorous thought. Against all expectation (they were often told the instrument “should not work” on principle), Rohrer and Binnig got it going, invented perhaps the central tool of nanotechnology, and won a Nobel prize in 1986 for their efforts.

“But I am not afraid to consider the final question as to whether, ultimately – in the great future – we can arrange the atoms the way we want; the very atoms, all the way down! What would happen if we could arrange the atoms one by one the way we want them (within reason, of course; you can’t put them so that they are chemically unstable, for example).”

In 1989, Don Eigler and Erhard Schweizer at IBM’s Almaden Research Center manipulated 35 individual xenon atoms to spell out the IBM logo. Because they could! This demonstration of the ability to precisely manipulate atoms ushered in the applied use of nanotechnology.

IBM Logo in xenon atoms
IBM Logo in xenon atoms

Here they have positioned 48 iron atoms into a circular ring in order to “corral” some surface state electrons and force them into “quantum” states of the circular structure. The ripples in the ring of atoms are the density distribution of a particular set of quantum states of the corral.

View from the top:

A ring of iron atoms on the surface of copper, as shown by the scanning tunnelling microscope. The ripples on the surface are electron waves. Image: IBM Almaden Research Center.
A ring of iron atoms on the surface of copper, as shown by the scanning tunnelling microscope. The ripples on the surface are electron waves. Image: IBM Almaden Research Center.

View the side, looking over the tips of the iron atoms:

A ring of iron atoms on the surface of copper, as shown by the scanning tunnelling microscope. The ripples on the surface are electron waves. Image: IBM Almaden Research Center.
A ring of iron atoms on the surface of copper, as shown by the scanning tunnelling microscope. The ripples on the surface are electron waves. Image: IBM Almaden Research Center.

Apart from looking pretty, there is no everyday practical application of this yet. It is a demonstration of quantum mechanics and the wave nature of electrons.

As with so many things, the ancients did it first! Early examples of nanostructured materials were based on craftsmen’s empirical understanding and manipulation of materials. Use of high heat was one common step in their processes to produce these materials with novel properties.

The Lycurgus Cup, as it is known due to its depiction of a scene involving King Lycurgus of Thrace, is a 1,600-year-old jade green Roman chalice that changes colour depending on the direction of the light upon it. It baffled scientists ever since the glass chalice was acquired by the British Museum in the 1950s. They could not work out why the cup appeared jade green when lit from the front but blood red when lit from behind. The mystery was solved in 1990, when researchers in England scrutinized broken fragments under a microscope and discovered that the Roman artisans were nanotechnology pioneers: they had impregnated the glass with particles of silver and gold, ground down until they were as small as 50 nanometres in diameter, less than one-thousandth the size of a grain of table salt. The work was so precise that there is no way that the resulting effect was an accident. In fact, the exact mixture of the metals suggests that the Romans had perfected the use of nanoparticles. When hit with light, electrons belonging to the metal flecks vibrate in ways that alter the colour depending on the observer’s position.

The Lycurgus Cup at the British Museum, lit from the outside (left) and from the inside (right)
The Lycurgus Cup at the British Museum, lit from the outside (left) and from the inside (right)

The vibrant stained glass windows in European cathedrals owed their rich colors to nanoparticles of gold chloride and other metal oxides and chlorides; gold nanoparticles also acted as photocatalytic air purifiers.

Stained Glass Rose Window, Chartres, France
Stained Glass Rose Window, Chartres, France

Smaller than macroscopic objects but larger than molecules, objects on the nano scale exist in a unique realm — the mesoscale — where the properties of matter are governed by a complex and rich combination of classical physics and quantum mechanics. The nano world is an in-between world, in-between the macroscopic world and the atomic world. The nano world is not just small, it is different – micro is small, nano is different. Objects on the nano scale are large enough to give us control over size, shape and arrangement and small enough to follow different laws of physics. Engineers will not be able to make reliable or optimal nanodevices until they comprehend the physical principles that prevail at the mesoscale. Once we understand the science underlying nanotechnology, we can fully realize the prescient vision of Richard Feynman: that nature has left plenty of room in the nanoworld to create practical devices that can help humankind.

Consumer products making use of nanotechnology began appearing in the marketplace in 1999–early 2000’s, including lightweight nanotechnology-enabled automobile bumpers that resist denting and scratching, golf balls that fly straighter, tennis rackets that are stiffer (so the ball rebounds faster), baseball bats with better flex and “kick”, nano-silver antibacterial socks, clear sunscreens, wrinkle- and stain-resistant clothing, deep-penetrating therapeutic cosmetics, scratch-resistant glass coatings, faster-recharging batteries for cordless electric tools, and improved displays for televisions, cell phones and digital cameras.

Titanium dioxide is the naturally occurring oxide of titanium. When used as a pigment, it is called titanium white and it is the most widely used white pigment because of its brightness and very high refractive index, in which it is surpassed only by a few other materials. Titanium dioxide is an effective opacifier in powder form, where it is employed as a pigment to provide whiteness and opacity to products such as paints, coatings, plastics, papers, inks, foods, medicines (i.e. pills and tablets) as well as most toothpastes. Opacity is controlled by the sizing of the titanium dioxide particles. At the nano level, titanium dioxide particles maintain their high refractive index, strong UV light absorbing capabilities and resistance to discolouration under ultraviolet light while becoming transparent, so you can cover yourself in sunscreen and not turn the colour of your white walls at home. Sunscreens designed for infants or people with sensitive skin are often based on titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide, as these mineral UV blockers are believed to cause less skin irritation than other UV absorbing chemicals and are not absorbed through the skin.

Nano-carbon is used in the manufacture of car tyres. Driven by a growing demand for fuel efficiency, combined with strict automotive standards for safety, durability and noise, automotive tyre manufacturers are continuously seeking to create better and more ecological tyres. The addition of nano-silica to tyres improved rolling resistance resulting in 5% less fuel consumption.

The Sony XBR X900A series of flat panel televisions released in 2013 was the first to use minuscule devices known as quantum dots to produce colours which are more vibrant than those which appear on a conventional liquid-crystal display (LCD). Quantum dots are crystals of semiconductor material just a few nanometres in size. An LCD screen works with a backlight shining through red, blue or green filters to produce the pixels which make up an image. Many televisions use light-emitting diodes (LEDs) as the backlight because they are brighter and use less power than fluorescent bulbs. Sony’s new televisions use quantum dots with conventional LEDs to produce a hybrid backlight of greater intensity.

A quantum dot (QD) is a nanocrystal made of semiconductor materials that is small enough to exhibit quantum mechanical properties. Specifically, its excitons are confined in all three spatial dimensions. The electronic properties of these materials are intermediate between those of bulk semiconductors and of discrete molecules. Quantum dots were first discovered by Alexey Ekimov in 1981 in a glass matrix and then in colloidal solutions by Louis E. Brus in 1985. The term “quantum dot” was coined by Mark Reed.

Quantum Dots with gradually stepping emission from violet to deep red.
Quantum Dots with gradually stepping emission from violet to deep red.

“There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom” was only cited seven times in the first two decades after it was first published in the Caltech magazine Engineering and Science in 1960. However, as nanotechnology emerged as a major area of research following the invention of the scanning tunnelling microscope in 1981 by Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer, allowing scientists to “see” (create direct spatial images of) individual atoms for the first time, pointing back to Feynman’s lecture would give nanotechnology an early date of birth and it would connect nanotechnology to the genius, the personality and the eloquence of Richard Feynman.

Reading “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom” with its bizarre mix of ångströms and inches, with Feynman’s verve and back-of-the-envelope calculations, with its insights and red herrings, and with the benefit of hindsight, is rewarding. We’ll provide the transcript in the next post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.