Norio Taniguchi, a professor at Tokyo Science University, is widely recognized as the first person to use the term ‘nanotechnology´. In a paper presented to the Japan Society of Precision Engineering in 1974, Professor Taniguchi used this new word to describe “the processing of separation, consolidation and deformation of materials by one atom or one molecule.”

Despite Professor Taniguchi´s coinage of the term that would be used to describe the science of the very small, the origins of nanotechnology date back to December 29, 1959. On that day, renowned American physicist Richard Feynman is believed to have first mentioned the distinctive concepts and principles of nanotechnology during a lecture at the annual general meeting of the American Physical Society at the California Institute of Technology.

In this famed talk, entitled “There´s Plenty of Room at the Bottom”, Professor Feynman argued that new avenues of technology would result from the ability to manipulate atoms and molecules. At the time, however, tools and equipment did not exist to transform this theory into reality.

Since this lecture, a number of advanced methods have been created to enable scientists to carry out the research Professor Feynman could only envision. Perhaps the most potent discovery was made in 1981 when Gerd Binning and Heinrich Rohrer of IBM´s Zurich Research Laboratory created the scanning tunnelling microscope. With this new tool, researchers could both see and manipulate atoms for the first time.

This and other technological advances have enabled researchers to unearth a number of nanostructures--the building blocks of nanomaterials and other nanotechnology-based applications. One of the first nanostructures to be discovered is the buckminsterfullerene, also known as the buckyball. A soccer-ball-shaped molecule made of carbon and measuring approximately 0.7 nanometres wide, the buckminsterfullerene was uncovered in 1985 by Robert F. Curl Jr., Harold W. Kroto and Richard E. Smalley.