Richard Feynman Introduces the World to Nanotechnology with Two Seminal Lectures (1959 & 1984)

In December of 1959, Richard Feynman gave a talk called “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom” at an annual meeting of the American Physical Society at Caltech. In this famous lecture, Feynman laid the conceptual foundations for the field now called nanotechnology when he imagined a day when things could be miniaturized — when huge amounts of information could be encoded onto increasingly small spaces, and when machinery could be made considerably smaller and more compact. He asked his audience:

I don’t know how to do this on a small scale in a practical way, but I do know that computing machines are very large; they fill rooms. Why can’t we make them very small, make them of little wires, little elements, and by little, I mean little?

Although some have questioned the degree to which Feynman influenced the rise of nanotechnology, his lecture is still seen as a seminal event in the short history of the nano field. It’s important enough that, 25 years later, Feynman was invited to give an updated version of “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom” at a weeklong seminar held at the Esalen Institute in October, 1984.

This time around, he called his talk “Tiny Machines.” And while sticking close to the 1959 script, Feynman’s revised lecture shows what technological advances had been made since he first outlined his vision for a nano world. You can watch the full 79 minute talk above.

Finally, since we’re talking about things nano, let me leave you with this — Stephen Fry’s 2010 primer on nanoscience. Produced in partnership with Cambridge University, NANO YOU was named the best short film at the Scinema Science Film Festival and it does a pretty good job of explaining the nano world in 17 short minutes.

Related Content:

Free: Richard Feynman’s Physics Course from Cornell (1964)

The Richard Feynman Trilogy: The Physicist Captured in Three Films

Richard Feynman’s Ode to a Flower: A Short Animation

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