Nanotechnology is still a young technology, barely scratching the surface of its potential. It is an exciting time as many applications, once the domain of science fiction, begin to achieve technical performance milestones. So what can we expect?
If we examine history, technology develops in waves of performance breakthroughs and incubation. With every breakthrough the scope of applications expand, feeding the next cycle of incubation and development. You can see this in the progress of many of our current technologies. In aviation the Wright Brothers opened the door to powered flight in 1903, with subsequent developments leading to the emergence of the DC-3's first flight in 1935. As technology progressed, the de Havilland Comet became the first jet powered transport to fly in 1949 and Boeing flew the first widebody aircraft in 1969. Most recently, we have the Boeing 787 as the first aircraft to be made mostly from composite materials.The same pattern is also evident in many green technologies with a wave of interest in solar powered applications in the 1970s leading to niche uses in space followed by a period of incubation and development which has seen the emergence of a global industry for buildings in the early 21st century.
Nanotechnology will follow the same pattern of breakthrough and incubation.While the breakthroughs get the attention, it is the consistent commitment to the application of research outcomes to potential products that moves the frontier of possibilities until there is a convergence leading to breakthrough. Our challenge is to support those innovation leaders who will persist in incubating developments and help them make their own breakthroughs so we can realize the benefits of nanotechnology. One of the best ways to do that is to support an active prototyping development community.