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See Inside Scientific American Volume 308, Issue 5

Atomic Toolbox: Manufacturing at the Nanoscale

Scientists are building the next generation of atomic-scale devices



Harry Campbell

For decades industrial manufacturing has meant long assembly lines. This is how scores of workers—human or robot—have built really big things, such as automobiles and aircraft, or have brought to life smaller, more complex items, such as pharmaceuticals, computers and smartphones.

Now envision a future in which the assembly of digital processors and memory, energy generators, artificial tissue and medical devices takes place on a scale too small to be seen by the naked eye and under a new set of rules. The next few years begin an important era that will take us from manufactured products that simply contain nanotechnology—sunscreen with UV-blocking bits of titanium dioxide, as well as particles for enhancing medical imaging, to name two—to products that are nanotechnology.

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