Scientific discussion of the development and fabrication of nanometer-scale devices began in 1959 with an influential lecture by the late, renowned physicist Richard Feynman. Feynman observed that it is possible, in principle, to build and operate submicroscopic machinery. He proposed that large numbers of completely identical devices might be assembled by manipulating atoms one at a time.
Feynman's proposal sparked an initial flurry of interest but it did not broadly capture the imagination of the technical community or the public. At the time, building structures one atom at a time seemed out of reach. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s advances in diverse fields prepared the scientific community for the first crude manipulations of nanometer-scale structures. The most obvious development was the continual miniaturization of digital electronic circuits, based primarily upon the invention of the transistor by Shockley, Brattain, and Bardeen in 1948 and the invention of the integrated circuit by Noyce, Kilby, and others in the late 1950s. In 1959, it was only possible to put one transistor on an integrated circuit. Twenty years later, circuits with a few thousand transistors were commonplace.
Scientists are trying to use nanotechnology to make very tiny chips, electrical conductors and logic gates. Using nanotechnology, chips can be built up one atom at a time and hence there would be no wastage of space, enabling much smaller devices to be built. Using this technology, logic gates will be composed of just a few atoms and electrical conductors (called nanowires) will be merely an atom thick and a data bit will be represented by the presence or absence of an electron.
A nanocomputer is a computer whose physical dimensions are microscopic; smaller than the microcomputer, which is smaller than the minicomputer. (The minicomputer is called "mini" because it was a lot smaller than the original (mainframe) computers.)
A component of nanotechnology, nanocomputing will, as suggested or proposed by researchers and futurists, give rise to four types of nanocomputers:
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