Feynman’s Legacy on Modern Nanotechnology

In his talk “Infinitesimal Machinery”, Richard Feynman discussed his rudimentary, yet plausible, vision of nanotechnology for the future. He discusses how to make nanomachines, how they could be used in computers and tools, and how to supply a driving force to move these nanomachines using electrostatic actuation and flagella like structures. Since Feynman believed that refined and grand objects could be made from crude and simple parts, he foresaw the creation of miniature manufacturing and computing systems. If these nanomachines were developed, which could theoretically build even smaller manufacturing systems, Feynman asserted that these nanoassemblers had the potential to build with atom-by-atom control. His ideas seemed farfetched at the time, yes. But it opened a door to a world of unlimited possibilities and one unanswered central question–how far can people go to arrange and rearrange atoms to create technological and biological objects exhibiting different properties? This area stimulated continues to be a subject of popular interest, heated debate, and misinterpretation.

Development of Feynman’s Vision

Feynman’s ideas spread like wildfire. In fact, shortly after giving his challenge to make a “motor measuring 1/64 of an inch on a side” (Feynman 5), someone by the name of McClellan actually successfully fulfilled the challenge. Not only did this show how much the scientific community respect him, but it suggested the feasibility of Feynman’s ideas, which employed mostly the bottom-up approach. This approach involves using the smallest components to create tiny objects. In the past, the top-down approach, involving the miniaturization of components used in the construction of working devices, was used extensively. However, because increasingly smaller pieces of solid equipment and parts became necessary for application, the method of bottom-up fabrication became increasingly more relevant, as we see products synthesized in the latter half of the twentieth century gradually using more nanotechnology.

Successful Realizations of Feynman’s Principles

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As humans, we all need to use our teeth to chew and tear food, so we will often find food particles and films in and between our teeth, which may be detrimental to tooth enamel due to the acidic pH. I found the Nanoceuticals™ Microbrite Tooth Powder to be potentially beneficial, since “it consists of molecular cages, 1-5 nanometers in diameter, made from a silica-mineral hydride complex” (Microbrite). Besides teeth protection, the product also releases dietary supplements! Basically, this product is a two-in-one formula!

Similarly, the silver nanoparticle Fresh Box super airtight food storage containers preserves food longer so you throw away less. Due to the “naturally anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and anti-microbial properties of the finely dispersed nanosilver particles” within the containers, foods spoil less, which means that we can save money and conserve our resources.

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G-WASH™ Heavy Duty Hydrophpobic Car Wash, a highly concentrated cleaner/degreaser which uses the power of nanotechnology, to clean cars brings very relevant applications to everyday usage. Formulated with “hydrophobic solution that causes water to bead up and roll off” and blend of natural plant based products, the car wash is not only waterless but ecofriendly, a plus for today’s increasingly greener world.


Additionally, I found the nanocomposite material on the General Motors® Automotive Exterior to be very applicable in that the exterior application adds more sturdiness to the vehicle. It is indeed very impressive to use nanofillers, with a “thickness of one-billionth of a metre or about 1/100,000 the width of a human hair” to provide stronger material. This is just one example of the potential of nanocomposite material.

Even more impressive is NutraLease, which uses “nano-capsules to enhance the biodelivery of nutrients” in Canola Active cooking oil, and has been shown to lead to up to a 14% reduction in LDL cholesterol levels. Now, that’s really something to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and increase absorption within the intestines.

Feynman’s Vision Obscured

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Feynman prompted us to imagine that if nanoscale robots could be created, then these nanomachines had the potential to assemble nanomachinery with atomic precision. From Feynman’s vision, nanotechnology held enormous potential, but, if misused, could open a Pandora’s box. Though his vision has produced positive results, his message has tempted specialists to reconstruct their nanoscale research under the title “nanotechnology”. Thus, we see products such as Chanel, created the Coco Mademoiselle Fresh Mist for women. Essentially, body mist can simply be sprayed on for moisturization and scent-enhancing purposes. However, I completely didn’t see why adding the prefix “nano” into their product description really made it a product of nanoscience.

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Similarly, the fact that “nano-silver spray” covers the body of Nano Silver Hair Irons to make them look “more luxurious” does not seem to benefit any entity except perhaps appease the eyes.


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Samsung Washing Machine jumps on the bandwagon as well, using “Silver nano wash that sterilizes your clothes”. This turns out to be just a chemical solution which has nothing to do with nanoscience at all.  These are all examples of marketing schemes, which employ the word or part of the word “nanotechnology” to simply promote their product in the public eye. These products were obviously conceived with an obscured vision of Feynman’s principles.

Feynman’s Legacy

Instead of focusing on the laboratory accomplishments of his day, Feynman conceived visions of miniature manufacturing systems, which motivated assemblers and molecular manufacturing. No wonder so many of my professors idolize Richard Feynman–he was an incredibly intelligent man with admirable visions for the world. It seems as if Richard Feynman extended his influence to not only physics and mathematics but also the field of nanotechnology, which has experienced only rapid development and expansion. If we use an analogy, Feynman basically wrote down a brief introduction and a few bullet points for nanotechnology and allowed future scientists to fill in the rest. Who knew that Feynman’s vision of miniaturizing objects would have such countless modern applications?

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